Asado Life Brings Argentinian Grilling Vibe to St. Augustine
Every entrepreneurial journey is different and the path to success can be a long and winding road. For Nick Carrera and his wife, Christie, owners of hand-crafted grill maker Urban Asado and the restaurant Asado Life, that path runs like a thread through the community in St. Augustine.
The evolution of Urban Asado, located in an old fish house on the San Sebastian River, to Asado Life across the river, begins in Argentina, where Carrera grew up and learned about the tradition of asado, or Argentinian-style grilling.
“When I was a child, my parents worked like crazy and when we had the opportunity for asado it was like nothing else in the world was going on,” he said.
Carrera said the term asado means more than simply the process of preparing a meal on a grill but encompasses the whole experience.
“It’s everything it evokes,” he said. “Hanging around the campfire, congregating around the activity. It’s not just everyone sitting at the table waiting for food. It’s the whole vibe and feel of it.”
It was from that sense of building community that Urban Asado – and eventually Asado Life – was born.
While the popular imagination sees entrepreneurs as successful risk-takers, seizing on opportunities and disrupting existing industries, behind the accolades is often a story of trial and error, learning from failure and overcoming adversity. The story of Urban Asado and Asado Life is no different.
In the first year the fabrication facility for making the stainless-steel Argentinian grills at Urban Asado was open, the area was hit by a pair of hurricanes – Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017 – which caused widespread damage up and down Florida’s east coast. The storms not only impacted the grill-making business itself, they also hindered Carrera’s efforts to engage with the wider St. Augustine community.
“In that time, when money was basically super tight, we weren’t able to be involved with much in the community,” he said. “We were growing tired and slightly embarrassed about having to say we couldn’t help so we ended up doing some pop-ups as fundraisers,” he said. The pop-up events using Urban Asado grills to bring the asado “vibe” to St. Augustine became very popular.
“It was a really good way to show locally what we did,” Carrera said. “Everything started to evolve really well.”
That led to working with local chefs and more requests to support other organizations for Urban Asado.
“It began to drive us into collaborating more and it kept evolving from one or two pop-ups a quarter to one or two a month and then to the point where we were doing them weekly,” Carrera said.
With all that growth, the idea of a brick-and-mortar restaurant was still the furthest thing from Carrera’s mind.
“What we wanted to do doesn’t fit into a six- or seven-day-a-week restaurant,” he said. “It would lose its feeling of being special, not to mention the physical wear-and-tear of doing it,” he said. “We thought what we were doing with the pop-ups was a really good alternative.”
Slowly, however, the vision of what would become Asado Life took hold and, through collaboration with chef Matthew Brown, then-executive chef at St. Augustine restaurant Collage, Carrera began having conversations about taking the asado idea to the next level.
At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic was radically changing peoples’ lives – not the least of which restaurant owners and other service industry businesses.
“Christie and I had this concept of a mobile asado vehicle,” Carrera said. “We had drawings and sketches of the unit we designed.”
The concept was that as things slowly returned to “normal” after the pandemic, people were likely to be uncomfortable in confined areas without social distancing. And that set up the next leap of faith for Carrera and his wife: Asado Life.
In keeping with the idea of asado and the sense of community and experiential atmosphere that surrounds it, Asado Life is not a seven-day-a-week restaurant where patrons drop in whenever they are looking for a nice meal. Instead, the restaurant operates on fixed schedule on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
“We book the asados,” Carrera said. “We only do one seating a night. It’s not a turnstile effect and our focus is on our guests for the evening.”
In creating the feel of a traditional Argentinian asado, Carrera said Asado Life is more than just a place to eat.
“Our big picture goal is for it to have a residual effect,” he said. “We want to have a positive impact in the community and that’s a huge perk for us and it takes the huge work of running a restaurant and makes it very fulfilling.”
And to accomplish that, Carrera said Asado Life is designed to bring that sense of community to patrons, one meal at a time.
“We need food for sustenance, but we don’t need gourmet meals for that,” he said. “But when you have the opportunity to have a very well-done meal that takes you on a journey that transcends the meal, it does more for you than what the moment is.”
Asado Life is located at 173 Shipyard Way, St. Augustine and can be reached at 904-217-8871. For reservations go to exploretock.com.