Saturday, July 13, 2024

Nachos are the new tacos. At least, that’s the idea at NachoFalt

A customer approaches the NachoFalt food truck at Biggers Market one Saturday afternoon. Click the photo to scroll through the gallery. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON –– One Saturday at Biggers Market, Keith Isabel was chopping fresh peaches, Granny Smith apples, onions, jalapeños, red bell peppers, lime juice and cilantro ahead of his afternoon shift. The fresh fruit salsa was going to be served atop the daily special from one of Wilmington’s newest food trucks, NachoFalt. 

“I’m going to call it ‘Biggers’ since I made it here,” Isabel said. 

He scooped a bite from a plastic fork: “I think it needs more honey, but it’s clean. It’s crisp. It’s got flavor. It’s sweet with a touch of heat.”

Isabel and his coworker, Chelsea Ortega, churn out dozens upon dozens of various nachos during the seven or so events they work weekly. Seventy orders is a good night for the team, though one of their secret spots at a neighborhood pool — their next stop for the evening — doubles the output.

“Last time we did about 130,” Isabel said.

The NachoFalt menu is simple: seven or eight varieties of nachos, some traditional, some unexpected. The Greek Opa comes with feta, chicken or steak, tzatziki and lettuce atop toasted pita chips. Buffalo consists of celery, carrot, Buffalo chicken, ranch queso and sour cream on tortilla chips. La Cubano Mojo Pork consists of plantains, saffron rice, beans, cilantro, and sour cream, topped with pulled pork. It’s the most popular menu item, a specialty created by NachoFalt owner Alex Tome. 

“So that’s my grandmother’s recipe,” Tome said. “Basically, it’s slow-cooked for 10 to 12 hours, seasoned with garlic, cumin, oregano oil, lime juice, and olive oil. And we kind of just let that do its thing — we cook it until it just falls apart.”

“Look at that crust,” Isabel said as he put about 3 ounces on the flat top grill, crisp edges giving way to juicy, unctuous pork.

After the pork butt is cooked for up to 12 hours, it gets grilled on the flattop before being topped on plantains on NachoFalt’s La Cubano. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

Tome and his team cook two or three butts a day, though the menu offers steak and chicken as proteins. It also accommodates the vegetarian crowd with Giuseppe’s Garden, served with saffron rice, queso, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, black beans, lettuce and cilantro, lime and sour cream.

One of his crew members happens to follow a vegan diet and after response from vegan diners, Tome has decided to create a special menu to sate their taste buds, too. But it won’t be visibly offered to just anyone.

“I don’t know if you know anything about In-n-Out Burger,” Tome explained, “but they have a secret menu and it’s not advertised at all. But there are codewords that will allow you to unlock the menu.”

Tome is going to piggyback on this idea for NachoFalt by creating a password and revealing it to a few vegan diners, in hopes it will take off via a fun game of telephone. Hopefully, they’ll tell their vegan friends, who will then tell their vegan friends, and before long, a new crowd of diners will be ordering from NachoFalt’s secret menu. To start off, Tome said it will only be available one day a week.

“We’re using chickpeas that’s going to act like the meat,” he said, “with gluten-free chips, black beans, some tomatoes and cucumbers, and we’re developing a Thai peanut sauce.”

Isabel expressed interest in also creating a fungi variety — “mixed mushroom medley with rosemary-infused olive oil drizzle on top,” he described.

“We’re kind of in the infancy of testing the dishes,” Tome said. “But it’s something that I’m getting passionate about because, you know, working on this trailer, I eat meat all the time. So it’s nice to have a fresher take.”

The NachoFalt team makes their traditional and special salsas daily. The traditional flavor gets doused into the homemade white queso. The longer it sits in the hot kettle, the better it tastes, according to Tome. 

Sour cream is doused on some items, such as the La Cubano. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

“All of our food is made fresh daily,” he said.

Going to work in the food-truck industry wasn’t something Tome had planned on. Aside from being a line cook and working a grill as a teenager, he hadn’t been back in a commercial kitchen in years. Tome took up a career in retail promotional sales, traveling the country over the past 15 years.

“Our business was to gather large crowds of people and put them within inches of each other to do a presentation for them live,” he explained. “So it was kind of like a scripted infomercial, but at Sam’s Club or Costco, places like that. And I managed hundreds of people across the country. And the pandemic just shut that down entirely.”

Though he lived in Wilmington, Tome was in Hickory at the onset of Covid-19 and ran into a best friend from childhood who goes by the nickname “Falt” (a play on a last name that Tome said was hard to pronounce when they were 12 years old). Falt had been in the military, and wanted to get back into the working world and mentioned a desire to open a food truck. With Tome newly unemployed, he decided to take a leap with his pal.  

“I had a buddy who had concession trailers on site at his house in Dallas, Texas,” Tome said. “And I said, ‘Hey, man, that food truck that you used to have, what are you doing with it?’ He said, ‘Nothing — it’s just sitting there.’ I’m like, ‘I’m gonna come get it,’ so I got on the plane and flew to Dallas, and drove back in a 1986 concession trailer.’”

Tome renovated and built it out, and he and his buddy launched the truck in Hickory in fall 2020. Deciding what to serve came relatively easy.

“We were, like, ‘Nobody’s doing nachos. Tacos, sure, but not nachos,” Tome said. “And Falt had the perfect name to go with it.”

The popularity of NachoFalt grew fast — faster than either anticipated, Tome said. He would drive back and forth between Wilmington and Hickory frequently in the early days. Volume was increasing, especially on the coast when Nacho Falt would park in local neighborhoods.

“We just killed it,” Tome said. “At one point, we were doing $2,000 a day in sales.”

His buddy wanted to step back from the budding business and Tome wanted to stay put in Wilmington (Tome has owned a home here since 2015). So NachoFalt moved east permanently this past spring. It wasn’t long before Tome said he was getting phone calls from other newcomer food truck owners, asking how he outfitted his operation. Tome then realized this new business was more lucrative than merely sending out a truck to multiple events weekly; there was another niche in creating them.

The finished plate of La Cubano nachos from NachoFalt. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

“In my driveway, I’ve got a 20-foot coffee trailer and a 10-foot Ram 1500 sprinter van — like a super tall one,” he explained. “They want me to make that into a coffee van. And I’ve got a 16-foot trailer sitting on Market Street that’s getting ready to be built.”

“I’ve been very fortunate that things have kind of worked themselves out in that manner,” he added. “I would have never predicted it.”

Recently, Tome registered Enterprises of Alex Tome LLC — “I didn’t realize ‘EAT’ were the initials until much later” — with plans to expand his brands further and beyond NachoFalt. He envisions a fleet of food trucks running across town, all unique, all offering up good times and flavors not easily found in the area.

“Although it’s fun to compete, it’s not about, you know, the competition,” he said. “It’s about what people want.”

He’s toying with the idea of franchising NachoFalt, too, since its success happened so quickly. He gives the credit to building a foundation of quick, friendly service with a rock-solid team

“We try to have as good a time with everyone as possible,” he said, “try to give them something a little bit different.”

At Biggers Market, two vegetarian orders and a La Cubano went out the trailer window within 5 minutes of being ordered.

“Hey, Preston, you want extra chips,” Isabel asked the regular, who is also the general manager of Biggers Market.

“Yeah, is that OK?” Preston responded. 

“Of course it’s OK,” Isabel said.

He handed over the box, filed the ticket and went back to chopping peaches for NachoFalt’s fresh salsa of the day.

“You can’t go wrong with fresh peaches,” he said. 

The general manager of Biggers Market scoops up his NachoFalt order. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Keith Isabel rings up a customer’s order for vegetarian nachos at NachoFalt. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Giuseppe’s Garden comes with fresh vegetables of the day atop multiple colored corn chips, topped with house made queso. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Isabel chops fresh vegetables for NachoFalt’s fresh peach salsa at Biggers Market. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
The NachoFalt menu — though the food truck will launch a secret vegan menu soon, but diners have to know the password in order to get it. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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