If you drive through Hollister, California, neighborhood community with historic agricultural roots and a sizable historic downtown, you’ll enjoy its warm summer Mediterranean climate. And if you happen to be there around July fourth, you’ll see the Annual Motorcycle Rally. But one thing is certain, in Hollister there’s a place that’s always in operation: The Los Mexi”Q”tioners BBQ experience owned and operated by Carlos and Amaya Lopez. The Lang Newsletter Editor had the opportunity to interview Carlos about his BBQ business and some of the background on getting into and running a successful business.
Lang: So, Carlos what drove you to start this business:
CL: My passion for BBQ and cooking is what really lit the fire in me to get into catering. Seeing someone try my barbeque and enjoying it enough that they keep coming back for more and more, always brings a smile to my face.
Lang: Were you cooking/BBQing before you started your business:
CL: In the beginning I started doing BBQ competitions. At BBQ competitions, after your turn ins (finished food turned into the judges), are done you have meats left over. I would always give the leftovers out to friends and family who came out to be supportive. That in turn, led to requests for me to cook for their parties, holidays and events. That’s pretty much how we got into catering.
Lang: Do you have a business partner:
CL: Yes, my wife Amaya. I tell everyone that she is the company CEO. She handles all the phone calls, emails, quotes for catering and orders. I’m just the guy out front who cooks everything.
Lang: What makes your business unique:
CL: I believe it’s our ability to mix traditional Mexican dishes with our specialized approach to smoking the meats. The result is a truly unique blend of flavors that delight and surprises people.
Brisket smoked with red oak and cherry
Back to back grand champions two weekends in a row. Nothing like cooking on a Lang!
Lang: How did you start your business:
CL: I got into barbeque back in 2012 after watching an all-day marathon of BBQ Pitmasters. I went to check out a local barbecue competition as a spectator and I realized, I can do this. I went out and bought my first smoker which looked like a small trash can. With that I entered my first competition. I ended up taking 6th and 7th place out of 25 teams and that was it— I was immediately hooked. From there I purchased four Webers and cooked on those for about 3 years before I got a Lang. I always told myself that if I was to ever get a big stick burner, it would be a Lang smoker. In 2015 that dream came true and the Lang 108 was delivered. Having the cooking space and being able to tow it to events helped me with catering.
Lang: Talk a little bit more about your business:
CL: I still have a full-time job (9-5 M-F) in the health care industry. I work in the department of child psychiatry. So, my barbeque catering and competitions are what I do on the weekends and days off. As much as I would love to do this full time, I can’t right now. Hopefully one day I can quit my 9-5 and just cook full time. Opening a brick and mortar or having a food truck is what I’m shooting for in the future.
Lang: What were the pitfalls you didn’t expect when you went in business:
CL: First, how much work goes into the prep. People don’t see the behind the scenes and just how much time goes into it. I’m up late, trimming and prepping meats. All people see is the finished product.
Lang: What would you recommend to someone new getting in the business:
CL: Ask yourself, what is your time worth to you and charge for your product accordingly. Also, the tremendous amount of time, effort and preparation required. Not to mention the licensing and legal paperwork, insurance and all the rest.
Lang: So, you purchased your Lang 108 in 2015:
CL: Yes, I purchased the Lang 108 Deluxe with chargrill.
Lang: Why did you start with the large 108:
CL: I was originally interested in the 84 model, but after thinking about it, I didn’t want to regret not getting the bigger model with more space, so I decided to go big or go home. I currently use the 108 deluxe with chargrill for all of my barbeque competitions and catering events.
With my Lang ready to grill and thrill.
Lang: What features do you like best about Lang:
CL: The cooking space and its ability to keep even temps throughout the cooking chamber. That’s what Ben’s Reverse Flow does that no other can. Also, the way it’s built, even the welds are excellent. And while I was looking to purchase, I had several other smoker manufacturers trying to sell me, but I wouldn’t settle for less.
Lang: What is your main goal as a chef:
CL: I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a chef as I never went to culinary school, but my main goal as a Pitmaster is to always put out a consistent product with a taste that really impacts their please eating experience. That’s what people love and keeps them coming back for more. We donated 30 turkeys to the Hollister Fire Fighters as a show of gratitude. They were distributed to other fire stations. I prepared them with my special barbeque treatments.
Lang: What meals are your favorites:
CL: My favorite meats to smoke and cook would definitely be brisket and ribs.
Lang: Are you in competition currently:
CL: Competition season is winding down for this year in CA, but I competed in 8 competitions in 2019. At Willow Glen we made first in chicken. In Silicon Valley BBQ Championship (the biggest on the West Coast), with 70 teams competing, and these were the heavy hitters in barbeque; we won 7th in pork and 7th in ribs. If I’m not in first I always want to place in the top ten.
Racks on racks
Lang: What projects are you currently working on:
CL: Currently just getting ready for the holidays. I sell smoked turkeys along with other meats for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m very involved with competitions and try to do at least 5-6 per year and more if able. We won 2 grand champions back to back cooking on the Lang.
Lang: What is the most important factor in competing:
CL: Getting down a timeline and being consistent with your turn ins.
Lang: What do you enjoy most about competition:
CL: Being able to see where I stand among my fellow competitors.
Lang: What can you share about the BBQ community as a whole:
CL: It’s a brother/sisterhood. You build friendships with people who share the same love and passion you do about barbecue.
Lang: Can you share a recipe with us:
CL: I’d like to share smoked beef tongue (Lengua).