Tal Blevins, 49, Creative
Greensboro native Tal Blevins’ passion for computer games spawned a 20-year career as a digital media pioneer on the west coast. Today, he’s back to his home town building a new empire, his restaurant MACHETE.
The new American cuisine restaurant – with a concept that some didn’t think would work in Greensboro – was recently chosen as a semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Awards.
“We feel right now Greensboro is our forever home. We love it. We love the people. I just hope that we can continue to evolve.”
Tal, whose mom worked for the school system, grew up with a love of trying new things. He feels lucky to have grown up as part of a generation that played outside, but also came of age with digital technology.
In first or second grade, he fired up his entrepreneur skills selling pizzas for a school fundraiser. His goal: winning the top prize of an Atari 2600, one of the first home video game consoles.
“I sold the most pizzas in school. I just went out and hit the beat because I wanted the Atari 2600 so much. That kind of started my love of technology and video games,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in learning new stuff. Even at a young age, I was one of the first of my friends to have a computer.”
While still in school, he worked for Babbage’s, a local computer game store in the pre-GameStop era. There he met the writers of a handful Greensboro-based magazines focused on computers and video games.
“Greensboro was a little microcosm of publishing,” he says. “There were a lot of writers living here.”
Soon he was working for GP Publications writing video game previews. In the mid-90s, as the digital publishing world first sprouted, an old friend from Babbage’s started GameSpot.com, a video gaming website that still exists. Tal started writing reviews of game code.
Tal went to the University of Georgia to get a master’s in urban planning. He played in a “horrible” band and worked in a sushi restaurant, but none of that was what he wanted for his future.
“My plan was I am going to move to San Francisco and I am going to be a video game journalist as my career,” Tal says.
A week after graduation in 1997, he made the move, becoming a staff member of Imagine Games Network, a digital publishing spinoff of a print media computer. Less than a year later, Tal became one of the co-founders of IGN Entertainment, which would become a massively popular video game and entertainment empire in an era when people were still using dial-up internet.
“We became one of the first big online publishing networks,” Tal says. “It was a frontier land. We were figuring out the digital landscape. There was no YouTube, there was no Twitter. There was hardly any video online at the point.”
The team worked in an office in a San Francisco suburb, with wonky hand-me-down furniture, second class citizens compared to the company’s print publications. But they grew exponentially, experimenting with new things.
Tal’s team launched sound-file reviews – decades before podcasts became popular. They managed the first gaming messaging boards. They were there at the dawn of social media.
“In the early days, we were so excited when we got 20,000 readers a day,” Tal says.
He started as an associate editor for the PC Channel raised through the ranks to become vice president of content for all publications, leading 80-100 people at its height and a well-known commodity among gamers. By the time he left, IGN was getting 100 million viewers a month. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation purchased the company for $650 million in 2005.
Tal never grew out of his love of trying new things. That is how he became a restaurateur.
He was pursuing Google to find a cool place to take his mother, who was visiting for Christmas, when he found a restaurant called Lazy Bear in what appeared to be a residential home. After a little digging, he discovered it was a dinner party-style pop-up restaurant with a lottery to nab a seat. The family wound up getting in on their first try – apparently, because chef David Barzelay was a gamer.
Tal loved the meal and Barzelay’s vision. He offered to invest when Lazy Bear got a formal brick and mortar location.
It opened in 2014. Today Lazy Bear is a two-Michelin star restaurant in the Mission District. And Tal is leading his own restaurant to success – this time back in Greensboro.
Tal lost his job when IGN was purchased by a new corporate entity that wanted to change company leadership. He moved on to a job writing about virtual reality, but Tal and his wife Nicole were getting sick of the tech bro vibe in San Francisco. They decided North Carolina might be a place where they could really be a part of an engaged community and neighborhood, and could make their voices and votes heard politically.
“There is more opportunity in Greensboro,” he says. “In San Francisco we could have never started a restaurant. It has been a little bit of a dream of mine but I never thought it would be realized.”
The family settled in Westerwood. Tal sparked a friendship with local chefs Kevin Cottrell and Lydia Greene, who were then working at the restaurant LaRue. They bonded over food.
Soon Tal sprung the idea on them. “I was part of this pop-up in San Francisco. I think it would work here. I’ve got the house for it. We’ve got the room for it. Why don’t we do a little pop-up for family and friends,” he says. “MACHETE started as 12 people in our dining room and living room.”
The food was inspired and creative – and not like anything you could get at a Greensboro restaurant. Word-of-mouth spread quickly. Hundreds of people joined their email list to get notified for the dinners. One, then two-night only, multi-course dinners sold out in minutes.
“It became the test bed and the marketing research for what we were going to become,” Tal says. “We finally realized, yeah we got something here. It was so weird to me. Greensboro’s such a traditional town, as we all know. But people want new stuff. There is desire out there, there just isn’t the implementation and execution. We would get comments like, ‘This is the best meal I’ve ever had, but it will never work in Greensboro.”
The community, Tal thinks, is ripe for creative and new ideas. There is so much opportunity for it.
Just before the pandemic hit in 2020, MACHETE opened its door in the Lo-Fi section of downtown. They offer new American cuisine mixed with global flavors on small, sharable plates. Their focus is choosing the best ingredients, providing a beautiful presentation, and offering the best service.
It’s a brand new type of dining for this community. Contrary to the naysayers, diners have embraced MACHETE.
Having survived the incredible ups and downs of the early days of the pandemic, MACHETE is thriving. Tal is focused on building the team to support this creative vision.
“We want to bring cool stuff to Greensboro,” Tal says. “We are on the path to success.”
Just before its second anniversary, MACHETE made #18 on Yelp’s “100 Best Places to Eat in the US” list. Most recently, MACHETE was among 30 restaurants nationwide to be chosen as a semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Awards, some of the nation’s most prestigious culinary honors. The winners will be announced in June.