As a child growing up in Los Luceros north of Española, Chef Johnny Chacon dreamed of burgers while he slept. His mom often cooked burgers in the summer; the meal had a lifelong impact.
“I used to dream of burgers as a kid, and eating them — it was wild,” said Chacon, the owner and head chef of Wowza Burger. “I guess it was meant to be to have a burger joint.”
Last month, Chacon turned his food truck, Wowza Burger, into a new brick-and-mortar kitchen at Nativo Lodge.
Food was an important part of Chacon’s childhood. He and his family grew vegetables, which they sold in Peñasco, and raised sheep. He lived across the street from his grandmother; when he saw the windows fogged up at her house and heard the radio blaring, he knew she was cooking something up, and would run over to eat.
Chacon moved from Santa Fe to San Francisco, where he became head chef for catering, food services and facilities management company Sodexo. Over the next few years, he opened several restaurants around California and worked to get the California market addicted to Hatch chiles. Every chile season, he would visit New Mexico and bring a truckload of frozen chiles back to the coast.
“That was how I got people hooked,” Chacon said.
He later moved to Nevada and opened a ghost kitchen — a restaurant that does takeout or delivery only — during the pandemic. Although the business didn’t work out, Chacon has kept his Nevada business license and eventually plans to bring Wowza Burger back to the state.
In 2021, Chacon moved back to New Mexico, where he opened up Chef Chacon’s Pancake House in Bernalillo. Around the same time, he opened up Wowza Burger as a food truck. After less than six months in business, Chacon decided to close the pancake house due to a lack of cooks.
Finding the spot at Nativo Lodge was serendipity. His employees from the pancake house went on a team-building trip to Nativo Lodge and saw that a spot was vacant. They called Chacon — a week later his food truck was at Nativo Lodge. Soon after, he set up the full service restaurant at the hotel.
“It was non-stop,” Chacon said.
Next year, he’s planning to add a second Albuquerque Wowza Burger location in the Sawmill District and open a fine dining restaurant in Santa Fe. He’s also planning to add breakfast options at Nativo Lodge. “Life is good,” Chacon said.