KC Mathieu dedicated over three years of his life to starring on a reality TV show, but now the body-and-paint expert is able to devote his time to the things he loves most: his family and his Fort Worth, Texas-based hot rod shop. Mathieu spends his days in his shop, working alongside his wife Kasey and his accomplished team to build and paint horsepower-heavy hot rods with a timeless look. After hours, he hangs out with his kids and dreams up cool things to do to the cars in his shop.

The fact that he’s even in his shop is a far cry from where he was only a few years ago. Mathieu, who is the owner of KC’s Paint Shop: Hot Rods & Restorations, spent more than three-and-half years filming the Discovery Channel’s hit reality show “Fast N’Loud.” Not too long after he signed on to the show in 2012, Mathieu discovered that the life of a reality TV star is anything but glamorous.

KC's Paint Shop, KC Mathieu, Goodguys

KC’s Paint Shop works on all kinds of cars and trucks, and can have as many as 18 cars in the shop at one time. Here, a ’68 Charger, a ’60 F100 and a ’69 Camaro are shown in various states. The shop is doing a full build on the F100, but only paint and assembly on the Camaro.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Mathieu remembered. “Aaron [Kaufman] and I were friends in high school and when [show star] Richard [Rawlings] hired him, they needed a paint and body guy so they asked me if I wanted to do it. I said, ‘Sure.’ I had no clue how being on a TV show worked, and it was just crazy.”

The extremely long hours (“we worked seven days a week straight for two years”) and the time away from his shop and his family really started to take a toll on Mathieu. When he pulled the plug on his reality TV career and left the show in 2015, Mathieu said he got a lot of hate mail – but he also got a lot more business.

Today, the shop continues to expand, with Mathieu seeing the need to move into a much bigger building later this year. He and his 12 employees work on up to 18 cars at a time in their current digs, and Mathieu has a long list of goals he hopes to accomplish within the next few years, including launching a product line.

Starting Out Slow

The current hustle and bustle in Mathieu’s shop is nothing like it was when he first went into business back in 2007. Growing up with a father who owned a collision shop, Mathieu naturally assumed that he, too, would work in the automotive field.

“I’ve always had such a passion for cars that I never even pictured doing anything else,” he said. “I worked at my dad’s shop for a while and then jumped around, learning different skills from different people. I’ve done just about everything, but paint has always been what I enjoyed doing the most.”

Working at other shops, Mathieu often felt stifled. “I never really got to do what I wanted to do when I was at the other shops,” he said. “Nobody did things the way I felt they should be done. I’m very meticulous about everything I do, and no one would pay me to do the job how I wanted to do it.”

Eventually, Mathieu began taking on side work while working full-time at another shop. He soon had cars parked all over the side of his house and in his garage, and realized he was actually losing money by working for someone else during the day. “That’s how I decided to go out on my own – I realized I could make more money doing my own thing, and doing things the way I wanted,” he said.

Going into business for himself was much harder than Mathieu expected. “That first year, I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t great,” he said. “I was so meticulous with my work so I wasn’t getting paid for all the hours I put in. I was trying to make everyone happy. I paid myself last and I didn’t make any money. That first year was horrible.

“We had enough work to keep us going, but I was working so slowly, trying to prove to everyone what I could do, that it hurt us,” he added. “If you don’t get the cars out fast enough, no one can see what you’re able to do! It’s a double-edged sword.”

“Crazy colors and graphics will eventually go out of style, but something simple is always going to be elegant.” –KC Mathieu

In the beginning, Mathieu was only doing paint, but eventually realized that if his shop was going to make it, he had to expand its offerings. “When we first started, we only did paint because we didn’t have room for anything else,” he said. “Our customers liked our paint jobs but kept saying, ‘Cool, but now where do I go?’ We were losing business because people want a one-stop shop. I ended up renting an additional little shop, and then another, and then another and we were spread out all over, but were able to offer full builds.”

Things Get Real

Life changed for Mathieu when his high school pal pulled him into a new show that was launching on Discovery Channel. The show, “Fast N’ Loud” showed Rawlings and Kaufman as they searched for and restored beat-up cars at their Texas-based shop, Gas Monkey Garage. Mathieu was hired on to be the paint and body guy. Although he had never been on TV before, the thought of going on-camera didn’t scare him away from the project.

“I discovered that I kind of had a knack for it,” he said. “I didn’t get nervous on-camera so it came natural to me in a way. I was just myself and I was confident in the job I was doing.”

Mathieu and the others initially signed on to do six episodes over three months, but the wild success of the show caused the network to come back again and again with new contracts. During the first seasons of the show, Mathieu was able to do the paint jobs back at KC’s Paint Shop, but when Gas Monkey Garage moved to a larger facility that had its own paint booth, Mathieu started painting the cars at that location, which was over an hour away from his family and shop.

Mathieu said the long hours that viewers saw him and the rest of the crew putting in on the show were very real. “We never got a break. The hours were crazy and the deadlines were even crazier,” he remembered. “You can’t fail. If you fail, you just stay and work longer hours to fix it. Working 15 to 18 hours a day was normal. There literally wasn’t even time to sleep. We’d take what we called ‘nap shifts’ where we would go sleep in one of the cars for 30-60 minutes. A lot of times if we did sleep at night, we’d sleep at the shop because that meant you would get about two more hours of rest in.”

KC's Paint Shop, KC Mathieu, Goodguys

Bruce Luna is one of the shop’s two full-time body guys. Here he’s doing bodywork on the bed of that ’66 International truck.

Viewers got to see the quality of Mathieu’s work on the show, which brought an influx of new clients to his own shop. With his shooting schedule, though, Mathieu was rarely able to take advantage of that recognition.

“TV is crazy! Doing the show, that’s recognition you can’t buy,” Mathieu said. “The show brought a lot more work for the shop, which would have been great, except that I wasn’t home. We simply didn’t have time to do the work, because I was off shooting the show all the time. My guys were there because I was gone so much.”

The long stretches away from home also started to affect his family. “For three-and-a-half years, I barely saw my wife and kids. I missed a lot of my kids growing up in that time,” he said. “Had I known then what I know now, I might have taken a second look before agreeing to do it. When your kids are old enough to be upset because you’re not there, or you’re missing all the school functions and your kid is the only one who doesn’t have his dad there, you kind of have to check yourself.”

Getting the Reality TV Monkey Off His Back

Mathieu made the decision to leave the show after Season Six in 2015, and was finally able to take advantage of all the work his time on “Fast N’ Loud” had brought to him.

“The TV show was great. People work for 30 years to get the recognition I got in three-and-a-half years,” he said. “But after I left, I would get a lot of hate emails, with people saying I started my shop to capitalize off of Richard’s name and whatever. They had no idea I had my shop way before I had the show.”

It’s been over two years since Mathieu left the show, and while “Fast N’ Loud” has now been in production for over nine seasons, Mathieu doesn’t regret his decision to quit reality TV. “Leaving the show gave me a chance to really focus on my own shop, and start doing the things I wanted to do for myself,” he said.

These days, Mathieu and his team are building cars and trucks that usually have two things: a lot of horsepower and a timeless, classic look. “Most of the time, you can tell if a car is, say, a Ringbrothers car or a Goolsby car, but for ours, I don’t think we have a set style,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is that I want our cars to be timeless. I try to coach my clients to do a car that’s never going to go out of style. Crazy colors and graphics will eventually go out of style, but something simple is always going to be elegant.”

“The TV show was great. People work for 30 years to get the recognition I got in three-and-a-half years.” –KC Mathieu

As a painter, Mathieu says he appreciates all colors, but definitely has a preference for the more subtle hues. “I don’t like crazy metallics, personally,” he said. “I think there’s a place for them, but it’s not on my stuff. I like classic, solid colors. I can look at a car and start putting it together in my head and know if it will look good.”

KC's Paint Shop, KC Mathieu, Goodguys

Employee William Mayes does some bodywork on the roof of an ’82 Mustang the shop is doing a full build on; next to it sits an in-progress ’66 Chevelle.

At KC’s Paint Shop, it’s not unusual to see an early 1960s truck next to a powerful muscle car. “We don’t work on just one type of car,” Mathieu said. “I try to make every car different in a way, but if I could pinpoint one signature of our cars, it’s that they have lots of horsepower.”

Mathieu said that nearly all of his builds have a supercharger and come in at around 700-horsepower or more. “I need that power,” he said. “I like really clean, timeless vehicles with a ton of horsepower.”

One car that Mathieu is particularly excited about is a ’57 Chevy the team is taking to SEMA in November. “It’s a car that we are very proud of, and we are doing a few things that have very subtle differences than what’s been done before,” he said. “I’m very curious to see how the car turns out, and how people at SEMA will react to it.”

The team is also working on Mathieu’s personal ’68 F100, a truck that Mathieu says they are “pulling out all the tricks on.”

Mathieu’s previous builds have gotten a lot of recognition in recent years, particularly a ’55 Chevy that Mathieu took to the Goodguys show in Scottsdale. “That was a super clean car – black on black but with chrome wheels and chrome trim,” he said. “It had a nice flow. I like a car that’s subtle. I don’t like it to stand out in a crowd, but I want a guy who knows what he’s looking at to notice our cars.”

KC's Paint Shop, KC Mathieu, Goodguys

A custom painter needs a custom-painted desk, right? KC’s is showcased in the showroom.

Moving On Up

Now that Mathieu has had time to shift his focus back to his own shop, KC’s Paint Shop is growing fast. Although Mathieu moved his shop to a larger 10,000sq. ft. facility only a year ago, he’s already outgrown it.

“I just bought land down the street [from where we are now] and we plan to break ground on it in the next 45 days to build a 25,000-square-foot facility,” Mathieu said. “We are building it to our specs, and will finally be able to have things the way we want them. Hopefully we’ll be in there within the next eight to 10 months, rockin ‘n’ rollin’.”

Rolling right beside Mathieu will be his wife, Kasey. (Yes, they have the same name, and yes, that’s actually how they started talking.) The high school sweethearts have been married 13 years but find it easy to work together. “This sounds so corny, but we kick ass together!” Mathieu said of Kasey, who does all the shop’s administrative tasks. “We bounce things off each other, and we know when to push each other and when not to.”

KC's Paint Shop, KC Mathieu, Goodguys

Mathieu does all the painting of the cars and trucks built in the shop in his state-of-the-art Spanesi paint booth. “Anything that has to do with a paint gun is my job,” Mathieu said. “My guys do the prep work and I finish the job.”

Mathieu also praises the collection of guys he has working at his shop. “I hire guys who are better than me, because I think that’s smart,” he said. “I design something in my head and tell them how I want it to look and it’s their job to figure out how to do it, and they do.”

Now that he has assembled a great team and has things running smoothly at the shop, Mathieu can’t help but think about returning to reality TV. This time, though, it would have to be on his own terms. “We’ve been approached to do another show,” Mathieu said. “We’ve had people come in and talk about different show ideas. I have some cool ideas for a TV show, but for me to agree to ever do reality TV again, the show would really have to be tailored around me, my guys and my family. It’s not worth going through all of that again. If it’s not right, I’m not doing it, and I’m not doing that to my guys. But never say never. If the right opportunity came along, we might jump on board.”

KC's Paint Shop, KC Mathieu, Goodguys

The shop’s showroom is the first area a potential customer will enter after arriving to discuss his or her build. There’s a variety of shop merchandise for sale, and magazine articles about the shop and awards are proudly displayed.

KC's Paint Shop, KC Mathieu, Goodguys

The shop offers a line of apparel that includes T-shirts, hoodies and hats with the shop logo and a cartoon drawing of KC Mathieu in his paint gear. Mathieu says that he hopes to add a signature line of products to his shop’s offerings within the next year.

Photography by Steven Bunker and Mike Harrington