Seattle DINING! logo


Ad 4 Olive Group Saturn


The Matador

Ballard's Matador nuevo hogar es muy hermoso

Yes, Zak Melang and Nathan Opper, owners of The Matador restaurants, are restaurant guys. But they also really love Mexico. And tequila. And food. Match made in heaven, really.

Nate (left), Zak (right), courtesy of Opper Melang

At the end of April, they moved their Ballard Matador location around the corner into the former home of the Ballard Annex Oyster House, which was also theirs. "I loved the Annex," says Zak wistfully. "It was heartbreaking to make the kill. But it was just too expensive of a concept to make it through the pandemic. Matador is pretty recession proof. It's a great value, the kind of place people will come to three times a week. Most entrées are more than you can eat, and they run $15-20." Or you can get your fill on tacos, enchiladas, burritos, snacks, and starters for less. Once the decision was made about the Annex, it made sense to move Matador there. The original space was 2700 square feet, the smallest of all the Matadors. The new space is 5,000 square feet. "Our average restaurant size is about 4,500 square feet. In the old space, we couldn't meet the demand. It was hard to move our original; we opened it in 2004. And it's a great location right on the corner of Market Street and Ballard Avenue NW. That location is really why we are where we are today."

Even before the pandemic, the Matadors paid a lot of attention to their take-out program. "Pre-pandemic, it was about 5% of our business. In the middle of the pandemic, it was 30%. It's a whole new part of our business, but we're glad we already had it in place. It made it much easier to grow."

All the Matadors have interesting interiors, and new Ballard is no exception, just maybe a notch or two up. Zak lives in Sayulita, Mexico, part-time and brought back the chandeliers that run down the middle of the dining room. Other lights around are either from the original Ballard location or other historic Ballard spots. The usual metal bull skulls. "Nate has a contractor background, and his little brother Shane is our property manager - we built this together. We have a wood and metal shop where we build the tables and surfaces. I built the new bar; Nate built the booths. We left the ropes by the front door, hey, they're hemp. It's Ballard. The chandelier around the fireplace is from Kickin' Boot Whiskey Kitchen. I've never built a fireplace into a bar until now."

Main bar

Upstairs from the bar and dining room is another bar - a great spot for overflow and also for private events. Walk to the end and turn right and you'll find a narrow cozy area with a few tables and at the end a black leather booth under yet another chandelier. That and the fireplace next to the bar in front are sure to be in high demand.

Another concept they've stuck with is 21+ for the entire restaurant. "All of the Matadors are 21+ now," says Zak. "When we opened in 2004 in Ballard, we felt there was a demand for an adult restaurant. When we decided to move to this location, we asked the staff if they thought we should go all ages in the dining room. They said no. On average, 50% of our sales are from alcohol."

Both Nate and Zak are into tequila. "We tour three distilleries each year and always take a group of employees with us to Mexico to give them a real experience and understanding of tequila. We have 150 tequilas at the restaurant. The Mexicans are always creating new categories, so we keep adding. People are familiar with Blanco, Añejo, Reposado, Mezcal. The newest classification is Cristalino. We used to carry Mixto which can be 51% agave. It's good for cocktails, but we use 100% agave tequilas now."

Tequila shelves, courtesy of Opper Melang

Zak has worked in restaurants since he was 16, moving here from North Carolina in 1982. "My father was a pilot and my parents retired to Sequim. After one visit, I was in. I love this place! I was a musician and thought I'd move here and become a rock 'n roll star. I still play. Nate moved here from Cheboygan, Michigan, and is also a Montana guy. My roommate owned the Owl N' Thistle and Nate and I met there. I also met my wife there. At one point, Nate was the GM at Peso's on Queen Anne, and I was GM at Floyd's Place on Queen Anne. Nate is a foodie who loves to create recipes and use spices. He hunts. We became good friends who both love Mexico and wanted to open our own restaurant. Let's do it!"

Nate and Zak continue to come up with ideas for growth. They currently have eight Matadors. While they closed Kickin' Boot Whiskey Kitchen and sold Southland Whiskey Restaurant in Portland, Zak still has that IP. "Barbecue is a big part of life in the Carolinas. Kickin' Boot was the biggest opening we ever had, and we thought we'd hit a home run. I guess barbecue is too regional, but I still think there's something there." Their office in the new Ballard Matador building (they own the building), just might become an Airbnb. "Maybe Casa del Matador." They still have the lease on the original Matador and are pondering on a concept. Zak is moving his family to the Carolinas. "I'll be jumping back and forth from here to there and Mexico. Nate and I are still thinking about doing places all over. Seattle is in the top three most difficult places to own a business. So if we can do it here…"

Connie Adams/May 2021

5410 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107

7824 Leary Way NE
Redmond, WA 98052

721 Pacific Ave
Tacoma, WA 98402
253-627-7100                                          Fireplace, courtesy of Opper Melang

West Seattle
4546 California Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98116

SE Portland B
2424 E Burnside St
Portland, OR 97214

NW Portland
1438 NW 23rd Ave
Portland, OR 97210

3690 E Monarch Sky Ln, #140
Meridian, ID 83646
208-893-6120                                       Tequila, courtesy of Opper Melang

215 N 8th St
Boise, ID 83702

We've worked hard to upgrade this site. Click here to notify us of any problems we need to correct.



Subscription has its privileges - Each month Seattle DINING! publishes new features on new restaurants, food and beverage news from around the Northwest and special events. Don't miss out on these informative stories.

Sign up today for your FREE subscription and you'll get notification each month when the new issue comes on line. You'll also be the first to find out about special Seattle DINING! events.  What are you waiting for? Sign up now!

 Click here to sign up now!