Chef Matt Horn’s culinary passion can never be extinguished.
On Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, the Oakland, CA-based chef’s establishment Horn Barbecue was engulfed in flames. The restaurant is now temporarily closed, and the entrepreneur is in the process of restoring the food spot.
For Horn, this isn’t a moment of defeat but rather a testament to his faith and proof of purpose. He is a self-taught chef whose love for cooking was influenced by his upbringing. Starting in 2015, his grandmother’s backyard turned into Horn’s culinary playground and served as the catalyst for creating “West Coast barbecue,” the company website mentions. Influenced by the flavors of the Black South, it provided a means of escape, which would later touch the hearts of many when he opened his first restaurant at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
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“My personal decision to become a chef stemmed from a period in my life marked by desperation and loneliness, a time when I felt cornered by the lack of choices,” Horn told AFROTECH in an email interview. “During this challenging phase, food became my solace and my escape. It offered a way to step away from the difficulties I was facing and immerse myself in something deeply meaningful. In the art of cooking, and particularly in barbecue, I found a purpose that was both healing and empowering. This passion for food and the solace it provided became the cornerstone of my culinary career.”
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He added, “As I’ve grown as a chef and achieved some success, the motivations behind my choice have transformed. What began as a personal journey for escape and meaning has evolved into a broader mission. Now, it’s not just about the personal fulfillment I get from cooking; it’s also about the impact my food has on others. My restaurant has become a place of community, a site where people gather not just to eat but to connect and share experiences. The act of rebuilding the restaurant is, therefore, a reaffirmation of this journey. It’s a chance to rebuild not just a physical space but a community haven.”
Already, Horn has raised more than $122,000 through a Go Fund Me page. He aims to achieve a fundraising goal of $200,000 to revive the restaurant, making it better than it was before.
“The raise is a clarion call for resilience in the face of adversity, a reminder that even in moments of unexpected hardship, there lies the potential for growth, renewal, and an even stronger community connection,” Horn expressed. “It represents a collective affirmation that even when faced with the ashes of calamity, the spirit of unity and support can kindle the flames of revival and hope for a brighter, more connected future.”
Expanding Entrepreneurial Footprint
Restaurants: Horn Barbecue isn’t the only brainchild of the chef. Through AH2, Horn’s investment and hospitality company, he opened Kowbird, a fried chicken eatery spot in 2022, according to SFGate. He then scaled his culinary footprint once again with his burger restaurant, Matty’s Old Fashioned in 2023.
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Horn credits several strategies for his newest placement such as extensive market research, his skilled team, financial planning, and the integration of technology into operations.
“Leveraging technology in our operations, from reservation systems to inventory management, has been key to enhancing efficiency and customer experience,” he said. “We’re deeply invested in building strong community relationships and creating spaces where locals feel a sense of belonging. Our readiness to adapt to market changes and customer feedback has been crucial, especially in the early stages of our new venture.”
The opening of multiple restaurants within consecutive years is no easy feat. Horn underscores the significance of diverse thinking, culinary influence, business operations, and personal branding as the fundamental elements for reaching a broader audience.
“Embarking on a journey as a chef and restaurateur to expand beyond a single establishment is a multifaceted endeavor… This expansion means taking the success of one location and diversifying it in various ways,” Horn explained. “You might open new restaurant locations, explore different culinary styles or service models like casual or fine dining, or venture into related areas such as food production, cookbook publishing, or media appearances.”
He continued, “However, this growth is more than just a physical increase in size. It’s about enhancing and sharing your unique culinary voice and philosophy. As a chef, you take the distinct flavors, techniques, and experiences you’ve developed and introduce them to a larger audience, telling your story and sharing your vision on a broader stage. This can influence the dining landscape and even the broader food culture.”
Creating A More Inclusive Industry
Horn has tremendous confidence in his vision, he says, although there were moments when it was tested through criticism and prejudice because he is a Black chef in a competitive field. What could have shaken him has instead made him more resilient and affirmed his belief in increasing representation in the sector.
“AH2, my hospitality and investment company, is more than a business venture; it’s a commitment to fostering opportunities for people of color, particularly those from backgrounds similar to mine, and is driven by a blend of business acumen and a dedication to effecting social change and enhancing representation within the culinary world,” Horn said. “In growing my business, I’ve encountered criticism, reflecting the broader societal challenges and the uneven playing field that entrepreneurs of color often face. However, this criticism has only fortified my resolve to operate from a place of vision, excellence, and precision, reinforcing my commitment to my goals and the quality of my work.”