10 Questions with Matt Hyde of 715 and Ladybird Diner

photo by: Nick Krug

Before making a go of it as part owner and manager of one of Lawrence's most popular restaurants, 715, Matt Hyde worked several interesting jobs including his time spent as a roadie and also as a gravedigger in Iowa City, Iowa. The culinary veteran also co-owns downtown's Ladybird Diner.

In this month’s 10 Questions, 715 partner and manager Matt Hyde (the restaurant biz veteran also co-owns Ladybird Diner) shares insight into his pop-culture hobbies, fashion influences and days as a gravedigger in Iowa. So, not quite “Tales from the Crypt,” but almost.

Here’s a condensed and edited version (once again, we are playing fast and loose with what counts as a question and how many add up to 10) of that conversation.

You worked a lot of jobs before landing at 715 — roadie, gravedigger, stockboy, cashier, truck unloader, among others. Any stories you’d like to share?

I got to spend a week in the South with an opening band for Lynyrd Skynyrd. That was exciting. I did all the roadie stuff and tour managing stuff before there were cell phones, so we would use calling cards and maps. There was no GPS or anything like that, so we would get lost on a regular basis. Grave digging was a summer job working for the city of Iowa City at the Black Angel Cemetery….

That’s a hardcore name.

It was the Oakland City Cemetery, but there was this big statue of a black angel (on the grounds)….that’s what they called it. That’s where the high school kids went to get high — you know, at the Black Angel Cemetery. Most of the time, it was just doing landscaping, mowing and all that. It was an old cemetery, so there were a lot of trees, and they’d use a backhoe to dig a lot of graves, but some of them we had to do by hand if they were in a weird spot or the backhoe could only go so far and we’d have to finish it up. Then, we’d get down on top of the caskets after they’d go in to put sand around. It was a real process. There were really bad rains that summer, and because it was an old cemetery, sometimes we’d have to walk around and look for bones that had washed up in some of the spots and then repair those and, you know….

Wait, so, um, I’m curious here. How did you know where…?

Well, places that saw more erosion, in the hillier spots. Because they didn’t bury at the same protocols back in the 1800s that they do today, and so they didn’t have the same type of casket materials and the same depth and all that. And then sometimes, if graves from long ago hadn’t been well-marked, they’d be digging a grave and they’d have to redirect where they’re digging.

Was this before or after you got into food?

I’ve worked in restaurants on and off since I was 15 or 16. I worked dorm food service, I did dishwashing, I did everything. Almost 30 years now. When I was digging graves during the day, I worked as a dishwasher and pizza cook at night.

What was your first job in the restaurant industry?

I worked as a busboy at a pancake place in suburban Chicago when I was really young, but I spilled coffee on somebody and the waitresses were really mean to me, so I quit pretty quickly.

I recently learned that you’re the guy behind all those celebrity birthday shoutouts on 715’s social media accounts. (Bar manager Katrina Weiss also handles a sizable chunk, Hyde points out.) How do you guys go about curating the birthdays?

We just try to find somebody interesting and not too offensive. I really have an affinity for pro wrestling names, so it’s always fun to find pro wrestlers. And for whatever reason, on this website that we look at — you know, we just Google birthdays — it seems to be mostly…they curate it in a way that seems to be mostly Asian pop stars, pro wrestlers and obscure historical figures. We just make (expletive) up. I mean, they’re accurate birthdays, but we want it to be fun. We try to mix it up. Not just movie stars and TV people but more obscure people, just to make it fun.

Whose birthday is it today?

I don’t know. I haven’t looked yet. I usually look after lunch when we’re getting ready to work on happy hour and dinner. So, yesterday it was Frankie Valli. I’m not sure who we’ll pick today. It’s always last-minute. We never plan ahead, you know? (It turned out to be Spanish motorcycle racer Jorge Lorenzo.)

Last week, you tweeted a birthday shoutout to Ace Frehley (former lead guitarist of KISS), and he actually “liked” the tweet….

Yeah, that was a big deal. We’ve also had Thomas Lennon (from Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!”). We’ve had Ron Jeremy, the adult-film star. He shares a birthday with Mitt Romney, so we made a salute to two great Americans. Ron Jeremy favorited that one. Who else? I think Jenny Lewis and St. Vincent, who’ve been here (to 715) before.

Back in 2009, you were featured in a Style Scout column in which you cited your fashion influences as Kid Rock, Anderson Cooper and Billy Mays. That’s a pretty eclectic mix — care to elaborate?

Oh, did I? I honestly have no recollection, because that must have been right after we opened the restaurant and I think I must have been pretty sleep-deprived. I remember seeing the picture but I don’t remember getting the picture taken. That sounds about right, though. Probably less Kid Rock, more Anderson Cooper. Well, Anderson Cooper in his casual (wear)….he can get overly dressy.

So, you’ve become a little more refined — a little less Kid Rock — over the years?

I would say so. As I’ve gotten older, for sure.

Billy Mays isn’t in the mix anymore?

No. He kind of crashed and burned toward the end there. His enthusiasm was contagious, though.

So, you were drawn more to the personality and less to the sartorial choices?

Exactly (laughs)

In the first two installments of this feature, we asked the subjects for their favorite places to eat in Lawrence. We didn’t ask Hyde this time around, but he offered up a few favorites anyway:

– Taco Zone, 13 E. Eighth St.
– Leeway Franks, 935 Iowa St.
– Hank Charcuterie, 1900 Massachusetts St.
– Rudy’s Pizzeria, 704 Massachusetts St.
– Ladybird Diner, 721 Massachusetts St. (“of course”)
– WheatFields Bakery and Cafe, 904 Vermont St. (the croissants are his “ultimate favorite in this town,” Hyde once told us)
– Limestone Pizza, 814 Massachusetts St.
– Little Saigon Cafe, 1524 West 23rd St.
– Checkers Foods, 2300 Louisiana St. (“best grocery-store fried chicken and ribs in town, by far”)