An older photo of Chef Nick Martinez, who brings new treats to the table at Flippo’s in Morro Bay. The photo is of the restaurant he founded years ago in the Central Valley called Three Rocks Cafe. Photo Submitted
Twenty-something years ago, Nicholas Martinez was transitioning to a new career as “shop keeper” for Bottle Liquors on Main Street, Morro Bay. Jack and Chuck Harper made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“I had been working as kitchen manager at Bayside Café for a year and one month,” Nick explained. “I loved working for Dawn Borst.” But he realized the new position would not only be a bump in salary but would allow him to broaden his supervisory responsibilities and management skills. What he might not have understood at 25-years-old was the business insight he had gleaned over the years from his grandfather, Raymond Minnite, would ultimately take him back to his preferred career sweet spot – food service and cooking.
His lifetime love affair with creating tasty menu items began when he was a teen. “I was 15 when my grandfather turned over the kitchen to me. It was the restaurant he founded in the Central Valley – San Joaquin Valley – called Three Rocks, California. His restaurant’s name was the Three Rocks Cafe. It was known for its breakfast platters and great hamburgers. My grandfather was an amazing man. Really all his brothers and sisters were incredible. They grew up in a coal mining cave in Utah, but all contributed to building towns, schools, real estate empires, and their own families. I was a lucky kid to learn from such beautiful people and receive all that my grandfather provided for me.”
However, Nick admits it was his father that instilled his love for cooking. “My dad is who really taught me how to cook. He was from San Antonio Texas and trained under a French Chef at Neiman Marcus when it was still a Gentleman’s Club. I’ve cooked with many chefs. Now I can tell you after 35-years of experience he was the best I ever learned from. I wish I had known it at the time, but I feel some of it stuck.”
Nick also believes it was Grandfather Ray that gave him the best advice of his life. “He owned a vacation home in Morro Bay that I now live in and have for 28 yesrs. As a boy, we would visit regularly during the summers. When I turned 18, we had a discussion about me leaving home. He told me about all the places he had been in his life. I told him I would love to live in Morro Bay but didn’t think I could afford it, and he replied with the best advice I have ever taken, ‘You are going to struggle wherever you go in life, so you might as well pick somewhere you love, and if that is Morro Bay then go.’ You got me crying [he told this reporter during the interview]. He was my best friend. My biggest supporter. Unconditional love was his forte. I miss him so much. He made my life. I’m just trying to keep it up.” And doing all the right things, this columnist must add.
“In 1995 I moved up to Morro Bay,” Nick continued. “I owe it to Soula and Gus Rangousses for hiring me for my first cooking job in my new community.” He would never shy away from extra hours or hard work to earn his way. During his first few years he also work for Kitty’s Kitchen, Rosa’s Landing, Outrigger and Flying Dutchman before he landing the Bayside Café full-time job.
So, it wasn’t long before the Harpers agreed with Nick’s dream idea to create an in-store delicatessen at Bottle Liquors. Indeed, it was a good business decision for them that allowed Nick to create a new profit center for the establishment and keep his chef skills sharpened. They rebranded their store as Bottle Liquors & Deli.
It was about this time when I first met Chef Nick. I was fairly new to the community thinking the wine industry might be my next career path. I was hired to coordinate the Wine tent for the Morro Bay Harbor Festival. Nick was one of the local food vendors I enticed to showcase their businesses among the 40-some wineries. He went all out and served Oyster Rockefeller to the delight of our guests. That led to a catering I hired him for when some Bakersfield friends who all had homes in Morro Bay and Cayucos decided to have a progressive dinner. Nick cooked and served our main course at the Kirschenmann’s Cayucos vacation home. It was stunning and Chef Nick would go on to other catering out of the deli.
Then along came COVID-times and life changed for so many of our businesses. The Harpers decided to focus back on their core business and Nick was ready to find his new niche in the food industry. He created his own distribution business, Flavor Fool. It currently sources several food products from out of the area and Nick personally picks up and delivers to his local clients.
Meanwhile, Chef Nicholas’ soul needed to cook for others. He reached out to contacts he had made working with wine brokers at Bottle Liquors & Deli and several catering jobs have kept him busy at winery events. For example, he’s worked with Chef Justin Lewis at Kindred Oak Farm of Paso Robles and Epoch Estate Wines in Templeton. And, once his Morro Bay associates realized Nick was catering again, he was asked to do other events like the monthly breakfast he recently catered for the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce.
Then another close connection happened that has led to future collaborations. Flippos’ new owner, Von Odermatt and Nick met. Nick has created a couple “pop-up caterings” to enhance activities Flippos had in the works to showcase its rebranding from a skating rink to a multi-use activity center for all age groups.
Nick said, “Von and I are a couple of ‘wantrepreneurs.’ We brainstorm ideas we know will work and sometimes get to try them out. One day he said he had hoped Flippo’s would become more of a special events center for birthdays, anniversaries, game nights and more. I said, ‘Well then we have to have an event to show the community Flippos is an events’ center.’”
That seedling comment launched the idea of this year’s Flippos Flippin’ Fun Fall Festival brought to by Flavor Fool on November 4 from 4pm to 8pm. The flyer states there will be food and activities for all ages and 10 local businesses “will have a game to interact with the guests.”
Darts, ring toss, basketball shooting, face painting, cake walk, and a continuous prize wheel of give-aways. “Listen for updates on 97.3/101.0 The Rock Community Radio for more information,” said Nick.
Participants as of this writing are Buttercup Bakery, Off the Wall, Paula Radke Glassworks Art Gallery, Tacos Menin, El Morro BBQ, Flavor Fool, Gaia’s Garden, YSLASH Carocha’s Art Gallery and Studio, and Mike’s Barbershop. Local favorite Frankie Paredes will provide the music.
And Flippo’s is a special events center already with the entire facility having games for adults and kids of all ages, plus beer and wine and soft drinks.
Plus drum roll, please, Chef Nicholas will serve some amazing treats he created. But he said, you have to follow Von’s number one rule – HAVE FUN!