First Look: Chef Nick Melvin finds a home for Poco Loco ATL in Kirkwood

Poco Loco burritos, fresh house tortillas, marinated tomato and corn salsa, and chimichurri. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Poco Loco burritos, fresh house tortillas, marinated tomato and corn salsa, and chimichurri. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Nick Melvin has been working in kitchens since he was 13 years old. And around Atlanta, he’s been a chef at restaurants including the Farmhouse at Serenbe, Parish, Empire State South, Rosebud, Venkman’s, and most recently, Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q.

But Melvin’s newest turn, a burrito pop-up dubbed Poco Loco ATL, came about during the early days of the pandemic, when he suddenly became a temporary house husband.

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Poco Loco owner Nick Melvin with his wife, Kristen, and sons Pern (in front of Kristen) and Lyle. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mia Yakel

Poco Loco owner Nick Melvin with his wife, Kristen, and sons Pern (in front of Kristen) and Lyle. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mia Yakel

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Poco Loco owner Nick Melvin with his wife, Kristen, and sons Pern (in front of Kristen) and Lyle. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

“Fox Bros. was awesome. By the end, I was culinary director, and had the opportunity to play with a lot of smoked meats, and a lot of Tex-Mex,” Melvin said during a recent visit to Poco Loco. “By year two, I just fell hard into Mexican cuisine. But I realized that as much as I’d been around it, and around Mexican cooks my whole life, I never really learned that much about it.”

After furloughing himself from Fox Bros., which resulted in two other employees keeping their jobs, Melvin took a deeper dive into Mexican cooking, with some help from an old friend. During the day, he started looking after his two sons, so his wife, Kristen, could work remotely. But he soon realized that job was much more difficult than he expected.

“It was very eye-opening,” Melvin said, flashing a stoic smile. “Also, during that time, I had some serious bouts with depression and anxiety, and not knowing how to label myself. If I’m not a chef, what am I? And that was really, really hard. So I had to find a tool, and some medicine to deal with it, and that was cooking. Then I was just cooking everything — breads, jams, jellies, whatever, and just giving it away.”

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Poco Loco Burrito is made with Pine Street Market bacon, Moore's Farm eggs, sweet pickled jalapenos, yellow cheese, house-made flour tortilla, and salsa verde. Mia Yakel for The AJC

Credit: Mia Yakel

Poco Loco Burrito is made with Pine Street Market bacon, Moore's Farm eggs, sweet pickled jalapenos, yellow cheese, house-made flour tortilla, and salsa verde. Mia Yakel for The AJC

Credit: Mia Yakel

Combined ShapeCaption
Poco Loco Burrito is made with Pine Street Market bacon, Moore's Farm eggs, sweet pickled jalapenos, yellow cheese, house-made flour tortilla, and salsa verde. Mia Yakel for The AJC

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

But one day, a neighbor told Melvin he should try selling Austin-style breakfast burritos, and that became a eureka moment.

“It just kind of matched with all the history and studying I’d been doing with Mexican cooking, so I worked on a flour tortilla recipe that I was really happy with, and started making tortillas,” Melvin said. “Then we had three rules: 1. We don’t go bankrupt. 2. We don’t kill anybody. 3. It has to be fun.”

That was a year ago. Since then, what was once a pickup table in front of the family’s Lake Claire home has become a takeout restaurant located in the former Dish Dive space on College Avenue in Kirkwood.

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Poco Loco is in the former Dish Dive space on College Avenue in Atlanta's Kirkwood neighborhood. Mia Yakel for The AJC

Credit: Mia Yakel

Poco Loco is in the former Dish Dive space on College Avenue in Atlanta's Kirkwood neighborhood. Mia Yakel for The AJC

Credit: Mia Yakel

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Poco Loco is in the former Dish Dive space on College Avenue in Atlanta's Kirkwood neighborhood. Mia Yakel for The AJC

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

“We sold about 25 burritos out of our house that first time,” Melvin remembered. “And then, the last weekend before we came here, we sold 175 out of our house in Lake Claire. I’ve broken three of our home ovens this past year, and two dishwashers, just by turning our house into a little burrito stand.

“But it’s been awesome. And everyone has been so crazy supportive. Rusty (Bowers) from Pine Street Market was amazing in helping us with meat. And Suzi (Sheffield) from Beautiful Briny Sea helped us out with the seasonings. It was almost like, ‘Here’s a sign. Try it.’”

Right now, Poco Loco is open only from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The new “weekly burrito” menu drops on Wednesdays, and preorders open Wednesdays-Thursdays for pickup on Saturdays.

There’s also a “weekly provisions” menu with the likes of green chile roasted pork shoulder, chicken mole, charred salsa verde, charro beans, and house-made tortillas.

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Poco Loco house-made flour tortillas and salsa verde. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mia Yakel

Poco Loco house-made flour tortillas and salsa verde. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mia Yakel

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Poco Loco house-made flour tortillas and salsa verde. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

“Everything’s from scratch, and we’re using the history of the cuisine, but just by nature, we’re putting our own little twist on it, while keeping respect for it,” Melvin said. “This isn’t ever going to be like a stoner burrito place with Cheetos inside the burrito. It’s also not going to be the place where you have to read a 20-page diatribe on where the pinto beans came from.”

Looking ahead, Melvin said he hopes to open more days of the week, though Poco Loco will remain closed on Sundays, which is “family day.”

“I found out I need to feed people,” he said. “I need to serve people. Honestly, from a selfish standpoint, this scratches that itch for me, and it makes me really happy.”

Right now, Poco Loco is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The new “weekly burrito” menu drops on Wednesdays, and preorders open Wednesdays-Thursdays for pick up on Saturdays.

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Poco Loco marinated tomato and corn salsa. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mia Yakel

Poco Loco marinated tomato and corn salsa. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mia Yakel

Combined ShapeCaption
Poco Loco marinated tomato and corn salsa. (Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

DINING OUT 7:30 a.m.- 1 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 8 a.m.- 1 p.m. Saturdays.

Burritos, $8 each; provisions, $8-$15.

Takeaway with social distancing; staff wears masks

2233 College Ave. NE, Atlanta. pocolocoatl.com

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