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Krispy Kreme doughnuts may not be a typical burger topping. And Chedda Burger chef and founder Nick Watts may not be your typical Mormon. But, as it turns out, Krispy Kreme doughnuts are a hit atop a Chedda Burger, and Watts loves being a Mormon.
Watts started cooking years ago when his parents had addiction and substance abuse problems, leaving him with the responsibility to provide for his brother and himself.
“(Cooking) became second-nature to me. It was the one thing I was subpar at doing, so I just got jobs cooking in restaurants and worked my way up through the ranks,” the Arizona native said. “One day, I was tired of cooking other people’s food, so I opened up my first food truck.”
The first time Watts opened his food truck in Arizona, which has now developed into a burger restaurant in Salt Lake City, he sold grilled cheese sandwiches, but it didn’t go over well.
“I wasn’t prepared for business. My friends and I always say, ‘Your first day of business, you had no business being in business.’ That was very true,” Watts said. “I fell flat on my face. A grilled cheese truck from California had just opened up too, and branding-wise it didn’t make sense for me to keep it up. I didn’t want to be second-best.”
As he looked at the market, he noticed an opportunity for a burger truck. He was given a white truck to use free for one month, and he opened his truck for business with only $1,000 to his name and an eagerness to cook.
Watts spent every night that month cooking burgers outside of a haunted house, and commercially selling cheese during the day. However, in the evenings, he sold more cans of soda than he did burgers.
“The first six months was a struggle. At this point I had kind of gotten into some bad extracurricular activities that were taking over my life,” he said. “I would do the truck at night, do my cheese job during the day. With both of my jobs, I fell into bad habits with drugs and stuff like that. I quit my day job and just cooked burgers at night.”
This decision to stick with his burger truck changed the course of his life. He slowly gained several loyal and regular customers, two of whom were named Kevin and Annette Wright. The Wrights were some of the first LDS people Watts had gotten to know on a personal level. They loved his burgers so much, they paid to get his truck relocated closer to them.
As Watts became closer to the Wrights, he got to know other LDS members in the area and began to be interested in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“I started taking discussions with the missionaries, but I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t want anybody to be disappointed if I didn’t do it. As I started taking discussions, I just let myself be vulnerable to it,” he said. “It kind of calmed my crazy a little bit. I remember my first lesson. The missionaries said they just wanted me to pray about what I learned. Just pray. I hadn’t prayed in a long time.
“The only time I had prayed was if I was getting pulled over or arrested,” he said. “I was like, ‘What do I pray about?’ I remember praying and just saying that I was sorry. There was a long list of things I needed to say sorry for. I remember praying and all of a sudden I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move, I could only laugh — that’s it. I felt this overwhelming feeling of happiness and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. This is it. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’”
Watts set up a date to get baptized. As the date got closer, the missionaries asked him how many people he was expecting at his baptism. He thought there would be about 15 people there — until he arrived at the chapel.
“I got there and there were 70 people at my baptism,” Watts said. “I didn’t even know most of them. I was like, ‘Who are you people?’ It was nice to feel so welcomed. People would tell me things like, ‘I’m Jimmy’s next-door neighbor. He told me your story.’ And I would think, ‘Who’s Jimmy?'”
A few months after his baptism, Watts experienced another series of trials. As winter came, his relationships changed, there was a dip in the success of his business and he felt the pressures of trying to balance his lifestyle with his newfound values.
“I thought it was going to be easy. Nobody tells you that it gets harder after you’re baptized. It’s hard being a chef in my industry — it’s sex, drugs and rock and roll,” he said. “You get off at midnight and everyone wants to drink. That’s how you bond. Sometimes you even end up doing cocaine because you did a long shift and wake up early to go again. Those pressures didn’t go away, but my outlets did.”
Because he had tattoos and “didn’t even own a tie,” customers would laugh when he would tell them he was a Mormon. He loved seeing people’s reactions when they would talk negatively about the church to him and he would reply, “Oh, I’m one of them.”
Throughout his work experience, he relocated to Provo and now has a restaurant in Salt Lake City. As he spent more time around other members of the LDS Church, he realized that he didn’t have to fit a certain mold to be a member of the religion.
“I found my voice as a Mormon. You always hear there are Utah Mormons, out-of-state Mormons and lots of other titles. Well, I’ve tried to bind my personality with my newfound beliefs — especially as a boss,” he said. “I always say that the kitchen is my temple. It’s the one place I feel at home. I say that because I haven’t been to the temple yet. There are still things I’m learning.”
As a new member of the LDS faith, Watts has had times of feeling inadequate. He has spent much of his dating life trying to “catch up” to the LDS women he dates who have been members their entire lives. “Because you have to be equally yoked, right?” he said. He needed to learn what was most important.
“I had to simplify my testimony. I was trying to be too super righteous,” he said. “I just had to tell myself to stop being phony and to be myself. Everything will come. I tried jumping into the deep end of the pool and almost drowned.”
As Watts focused on living the simple doctrines gospel of Jesus Christ — particularly charity and service — he found true success.
“I’ve always been someone who wants to give back to the community. People are spending their hard-earned money on my burgers,” he said. “Chedda Burger isn’t mine — it’s Utah’s. I’m just the guy that knows burgers. Without the community, I’d be dead in the water.”
Chedda Burger is heavily involved in community service, particularly with the homeless community. The restaurant has donated hand warmers and food throughout the winter months. After catering a wedding on New Year’s Eve, Watts had several leftover burgers. Instead of letting them go to waste, he sat out in the five-degree weather to feed the homeless people living at The Road Home.
“It was New Year’s Eve, my birthday and freezing cold, but it was probably one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had,” he said. “People were hugging the boxes for warmth for like 10 minutes. It’s not the cure of all cures, but it gave people a few hours of warmth.”
Throughout his journey, Watts has experienced challenges and triumphs. He admits he still struggles. The greatest lesson he has learned is no one is perfect.
“You sit there and try to paint this perfect picture, which ends up being harder than just being who you are. Nobody has a right to judge you, so who cares what they think?” he said. “The only person who is going to judge you is Heavenly Father, and he knows what you’ve been doing. When you’re ready to fix the bad things, he’s going to be there. That’s what I’ve learned through all of this.”
Kelsey Schwab writes for the Faith and Family sections of DeseretNews.com
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