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Matt Horn on Finding Purpose in Family and Flames In-depth interview with CEO, pitmaster, and James Beard Award Nominee Matt Horn about growing his global food brand with social media, operating multiple restaurant concepts, and why he decided to "burn the boats."

By Shawn P. Walchef

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Takeaways from this episode:

Be a Forever Learner — Matt Horn had tried-and-true principles instilled in him from a young age. His father told him, "if you aren't learning, then you're going in the wrong direction." Horn continues to carry that lesson with him as he is a self described forever student of barbecue, business, and life.

Burn the Boats — Matt Horn has not always received support from family, outside of his wife Nina. Horn has repaid that support through his intentional sacrifice and unwavering commitment. He lives by the adage "if you want to take the island, you gotta burn the boats". Meaning, eliminate the backup options and go strictly after what you want to accomplish.

Barbecue is a Global Entity — Most chefs understand that food is a love language. For Matt Horn, he learned barbecue in the backyard where his affinity for it grew. Now, globally recognized, he hopes to spread that love across the globe and provide opportunities through diversified vehicles.


Before he founded a barbecue empire, Matt Horn started out humbly cooking over a fire in his grandmother's backyard.

Matt Horn did not take the traditional route one would think a James Beard Award finalist and Food & Wine Best New Chef would have taken to the mountaintop of culinary arts. He didn't begin cooking seriously until he reached his 20s. In fact, barbecue, and purpose, found Horn as much as he found it.

"I started off very humble in my grandmother's backyard," the restaurant owner and entrepreneur tells Restaurant Influencers podcast host Shawn P. Walchef of CaliBBQ Media.

"I didn't have a smoker or anything like that. So that backyard became my school. That was my area. That was my culinary school."

Matt Horn's obsession with barbecue began, ironically, with a bad batch of ribs. The disapproval of his then girlfriend, now wife, sparked the tenacity that lit his passion to pursue the perfect barbecue, and for that matter, his ever growing burn for improvement.

It worked.

He shunned opportunities to hang with friends, vacations, or any other alleged distraction many lean into and dedicated his focus to becoming the best barbecue chef he could possibly be.

Matt took his food public in 2016 and had his first pop up in 2016. Though only around 15 people showed up, he cried tears of joy and gratitude for the opportunity to serve the people.

Now the founder and owner of Horn Hospitality Group, he remains dedicated to his craft, business, and life. Holding tight to the advice that "if you are not learning then you're going in the wrong direction", he prides himself on remaining true to his passion, and fulfilling his purpose daily.

Michelin recognition and achievements aside, Matt Horn has built a brand on transparency, honesty, and a heart for giving along with the highest quality of food and service.

Attention to detail is necessary for good barbecue; Matt superimposes that idea over his entire being.

In an honest moment, he remembers a time when he was ready to give up barbecue altogether after not being able to sell any food in five hours at a pop-up.

"And that's where I decided, you know what? I think I'm done with barbecue." Matt Horn packed up all his food and gave it away to local homeless individuals. Though he had been losing money for a while in pursuit of his dreams, he gave away all the food he stayed up late the night before free of charge. An interesting thing happened, however.

"It made me happy to be able to serve," he says of the day that would prove to be a turning point. "I made the decision, and literally the next day I woke up. I'm like, OK, what am I going to do today? And I went in the backyard and lit the fire."

The fire, specifically the backyard fire, has served as a replenishing source for Matt Horn. He now has numerous concepts, 20,000+ followers on Instagram, and a new cookbook called, Horn Barbecue: Recipes and Techniques from a Master of the Art of BBQ.

That's along with an ever-increasing passion to touch the world through food. With the continued support of his wife, Horn has the relentless commitment to let the slow burn of barbecue and business do just that.



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Shawn P. Walchef

Founder of Cali BBQ Media

“Be the show, not the commercial.”

Cali BBQ Media Founder Shawn Walchef helps brands and leaders leverage the new Business Creator Economy with strategic Smartphone Storytelling and Digital Hospitality.

His Cali BBQ restaurant company has generated more than $35 million since opening in 2008. They operate numerous locations in San Diego and beyond.

Shawn’s weekly video series Restaurant Influencers (published by Entrepreneur Media and produced by Cali BBQ Media) has been seen by over 25 million people.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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