Sponsored Content: An inside look at Nada Columbus

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

It's about to get a little more festive in the Arena District, and it has nothing to do with the holidays. Tomorrow, Dec. 27, Cincinnati's vibrant Mexican-inspired eatery, Nada, opens inside the new Columbia Gas headquarters. It's the first non-Cincinnati expansion for Boca Restaurant Group-a company that also owns Boca and Sotto, and is known in its neck of the woods for inventive dishes and lively atmospheres. At the Columbus Nada, diners can expect the same vibe in the 220-seat eatery with dishes ranging from Mexican Mac N' Cheese to signature tacos to sliders to cracked potato fries.

"There's no other cuisine that evokes more of a festive party-like atmosphere," says owner David Falk. "Nada is the perfect place to bring friends and kick back and relax. It's an instantly uplifting experience."

The fittingly jubilant Falk shares insight into the Nada concept and why Columbus was the right move. –Interview by Beth Stallings

Nada is billed as inspired Mexican. What does that mean?

[At many Mexican restaurants], you go in and there's a big platter of food with rice and beans and cup of sour cream as garnish. That's not what we want to do. Nada has always been a Mexican restaurant trying not to be a Mexican restaurant.

It's an exceptional restaurant serving cuisine inspired by Mexico. It's food we want to eat. It's all chef driven. The carnitas tacos with creeper salsa is unbelievable. For me, it's the best carnitas I've ever had. The ceviche recipe is from one of our chef's father. The Columbus menu is all the greatest hits of Cincinnati with a couple subtle changes-dishes I wanted to get on the Nada menu for a while.

We've heard the design of the Columbus location of Nada is different from the original. What should we expect from the new look?

It's almost impossible for me to describe the design. We're intentionally trying to create an experience that is very hard to describe. We want it to be like a roller coaster ride. Roller coasters are exciting because there's tension and relief. We want people to dine at Nada and get off and say, "That was so much fun."

Nada has been open in Cincinnati for seven years. Where did the idea for Nada come from?

I was 19 years old working at Spiaggia in Chicago as an extern from the [Culinary Institute of America], and Rick Bayless won [Best American Chef in the Midwest] from the James Beard Foundation. Nobody knew who he was. We all rushed to his restaurant [Frontera Grill]. It was the first time I had ever had Mexican food that wasn't Don Pablo's. I remember saying if somebody did this in Cincinnati they would kill it.

Then I opened up Boca, and I thought, "Surely somebody is going to do this". Then I moved Boca to a new location and thought, "Surely somebody will do this [Mexican concept]." Then I'm standing in a 6,500 square foot space (which would eventually become Nada) that just seemed massive to me. It's 10 years after Frontera Grill and I'm thinking, "We have to do it."

But I got scared and I came up with this really bland concept. We pitched it to our investors, and I freaked out. I went out to Scottsdale, Arizona, and told myself, "I am not leaving until I figure everything out". While I was out there, the wife of one of the investors called me and said, "Whatever you do make sure you are passionate about it."

So, I got the investors in a room together and said I am doing Mexican and here's why Nada is what the city needs. Downtown is dead; there is no energy. It took us two years to develop the menu. It was a brutal process.

But it seems worth the work. Nada was well-received by diners and media in Cincy.

The response was so great that we were able to say this thing's got legs; we can take it on the road. And certainly Columbus was on the radar. It's the first time in my life I'm opening a restaurant not in my hometown.

Why did you pick Columbus as your first city to expand to? And why is now the right time to expand the Nada brand?

I have family in Columbus. I've always been a fan of Columbus. Its close proximity to Cincinnati is perfect-the opportunity to be an hour and 20 minutes away in a city that has so much going on. We're very excited about the development of the Arena District and all the amazing restaurants that are up there. When we saw the space, it was a no-brains decision. We really liked the idea of a new build. Here, we get to really unveil a brand new product.

I'm so proud of the job my team has done. It's light years ahead of where we were seven years ago. We brought all the design in house.

We heard there is one question you always ask potential aspiring servers-are they more likely to throw a party or go to a party? Why is that the key question?

Yes, when I hired servers that was one of my big questions. I'm a cook. I came from a culinary background. I try to keep things pretty simple. It's about hospitality and you either have the spirit or you don't. That's what we're about. Our philosophy is B.P.A.-blowing people away. We believe the passion to blow people way will drive the bottom line. We're about creating a team who genuinely wants to take care of you. That trumps everything.