"I had so much fun — I had no idea it would be fun," admits Natascha Hess of competing on the Food Network show Beat Bobby Flay
, in an episode that will premiere at 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 11.
Her restaurant, Ginger Pig,
at 4262 Lowell Boulevard (our 2022 pick for the Best Corn(flake) Dog
), will host a watch party to celebrate. But that's not the only news the team is excited about: Ginger Pig is also planning a comeback in Boulder later this year.
Hess took a winding path to the kitchen and restaurant ownership, from hockey player to sports television to becoming a lawyer before she decided to open a food truck and landed her first restaurant job as an intern
under Top Chef
alum Carrie Baird, after meeting her by chance during a dinner at Brazen in 2015.
When she first launched Ginger Pig as a food truck
in 2016, it made regular appearances at Boulder's Rayback Collective. After a stint at the now-closed Isabelle Farm in Lafayette, Ginger Pig moved into Rosetta Hall in Boulder before Hess debuted the Denver brick-and-mortar location in 2020.
Now the truck sits in front of the restaurant — a fact that played a part in the new Boulder location. "I'd been wanting to reopen the food truck in the last few years," Hess explains. "I felt uncomfortable having it sit there, and I'd thought about wanting to go back to Boulder." At first, she considered returning to the Rayback Collective since she was looking for a permanent location that wouldn't require the truck to be driven around, but the revenue-share model in which 10 percent of sales go to Rayback made her nervous about the viability of that approach, Hess says.
Ginger Pig's corn flake-crusted corn dog.
In Denver, 53 percent of Hess's business is takeout and delivery, she notes. So when she spotted a small takeout spot for rent while driving around the Hill in Boulder, a new idea took shape. "It's basically a food truck with walls," she says of the 450-square-foot space at 1203 13th Street.
She hopes to open there in October or November, offering a condensed menu of Ginger Pig hits along with some new, Boulder-exclusive dishes (including a vegan take on the cornflake-encrusted dog) for lunch, dinner and late night. Guests will be able to order pickup and get delivery through the major apps as well as Boulder's HungryBuffs
Hess plans to offer some sidewalk tables outside the Boulder spot, and eventually rooftop seating. "I'm an entrepreneur at heart; I love the building of it," Hess says of the new project. She's also working on a totally new concept that will operate as a ghost kitchen out of the Boulder location, though she's not spilling the details just yet.
The expansion is hard-earned — and marks Ginger Pig's fourth iteration since its start. But Hess, who was totally new to restaurants before this venture, has learned a lot. "I feel very comfortable and safe this time," she notes. "I have much a better idea of how to do it and what to expect."
Ginger Pig will debut in Boulder later this year.
Courtesy of Natascha Hess
One lesson: "The hardest part of owning a restaurant is managing people," she admits, but then credits her crew and supporters like Baird with preparing her for Beat Bobby Flay.
After the Food Network reached out to Hess early this summer about possibly competing, Baird and the Ginger Pig team got in on the fun, showing up with secret ingredients to test Hess. "Really hard ones for someone making Chinese cuisine," Hess notes, like blue cheese, chicken livers and guanciale.
"When I got there, it wasn't that scary, because I thought, 'Nothing can be as hard as all the things I practiced with,'" she recalls. "It helped me a lot with my confidence going into it. I have such a good support system that I really felt ready, and it was really special that [my employees] were excited about it and cared. It was great team-building."
Getting the call to confirm that she would indeed appear — less than a week before flying out to film — "really validated my career changes," she jokes. "This was my first real business trip in my whole career. It's a huge honor to get to go to New York to cook."
To shoot the episode, Hess was flown to New York City, arriving in the late afternoon and then waking up for a 5:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. Denver time, she notes) ride to the set. But while the schedule was grueling, the experience was anything but. Hess gushes about getting to know her competitor, San Francisco chef, restaurateur and author Kathy Fang
, and getting encouraging feedback from judge Alex Guarnaschelli. "For me, it was one of the best days of my life," she says.
Hess, who's originally from the Northeast, took the opportunity to extend her trip, spending time with family and friends and eating all over New York City — particularly in Queens, where she was able to try a number of Chinese restaurants.
She was away from Ginger Pig for two weeks, her longest vacation since starting the business. "It was an exciting moment that I was able to leave, and testament to the employees," she says. "It was an amazing time. I had this really great moment where I realized it's impressive to be a great chef, but to be a restaurant owner and still be in business feels like an even bigger accomplishment than being on Beat Bobby Flay
. It's rare and it's hard, and it left me feeling really proud of my team."
So no matter the outcome on August 11, Hess thinks she's already won, and she's ready to keep growing Ginger Pig and making Denver (and Boulder) even more delicious.