One resident of a small Los Angeles-area city is starting a culinary renaissance set to introduce a community to something completely different. Ray Ramirez, resident of the city of Huntington Park, Calif., has been a part of a seven-month journey to bring his passion of barbecuing to friends, family and new customers throughout the area.
Ramirez is the proprietor of Ray’s BBQ, a recently-established barbecue restaurant in Huntington Park, just 15 minutes away from Los Angeles. However, prior to the opening of his shop, he was already gaining a reputation from local residents by taking the initiative to sell his food out of his backyard.
Since January 2014, Ray would prepare hundreds of racks of ribs, and various pounds of pulled pork to contribute to original recipes on old favorites. Common items you’ll find on Ray’s menu include pulled pork sandwiches, pulled pork nachos (complete with baked beans, nacho cheese and jalapenos), and of course, pork and beef ribs, all cooked in professional-grade smokers.
During his backyard days, Ramirez would see hoards of people flock to his residence to purchase his trademark barbecue meats. It was during this time that Ramirez decided to expand his cooking prowess.
However, like most success stories, for Ray, it was not about the destination, but the journey.
Ramirez began his journey through the mother of all other inventions: necessity. According to Ramirez, his love for barbecue cooking began after a job loss left him with few options to sustain his family. “Barbecue is very expensive, and when I got laid off in 2011 by Chase Bank, we used to go eat once a month to Lucille’s Barbecue and we would spend up to 120 dollars. Once I got laid off, I told my wife, ‘you know what? I’m going to learn how to do it,’” he said,
Ray continued, “When you’re in the situation when you’re getting 1,800 dollars a month for four people, you can’t afford to go out, so we decided to make it on our own.” Ray’s decision to get into the smoking business came after independently selling grills and smokers and coming to the realization that he could take matters into his own hands.
Once things started to progress, he decided to spread his product to a limited circle. Ramirez mentioned that after sharing his food with friends and family, he was encouraged to create an enterprise from his creations. Ray said, “We were just amazed how we were even getting people to come to the house. Not only did it start to pay the bills, but then it got the point where I thought, ‘Wait a minute, people like my style!’”
He continued, “I started seeing comments online where people started saying I was better than Bludsoe’s, and better than Lucille’s and how they didn’t even want to go there anymore. It stopped being about the money because I knew the money was going to be there regardless. After I saw that they liked it, I started to think about how I could make it better.”
After his food started gaining popularity, Ray noticed a meteoric rise in his social media following. His Facebook page friends count increased by the hundreds, due in part to his frequent posting of his food, enticing the appetites of all. Due to his barbecue trending, Ray began getting the attention of barbecue fans from outside Huntington Park, including Palm Springs and the Antelope Valley.
Regarding his Facebook campaign, Ray commented, “I started with 13 friends, and by March, I had about 600-something friends and word spread like a virus. I know a lot of people see my friends count and say, ‘well, Ray has 2000 friends, I have 3000 friends,’ well, guess what? Your friends aren’t customers, mine are.”
Ray’s true test of endurance came after he decided to open his restaurant. Ray went through countless inspections and made a series of expenses to make sure everything was set for his grand opening. After an inspection in early August, Ray took to Facebook to announce that the barbecue dream would not be fulfilled. After failing the inspection, he admitted that he was out of funds to make the necessary repairs asked by the local health department.
Shortly thereafter, friends came to Ray’s aid, including one restaurant owner allowing him to use her establishment to raise funds by selling ribs by the rack, and one friend who even donated a new commercial water heater for the shop. Ray’s fundraiser collected 83 percent of his target goal, which finally allowed him to complete the repairs and have his shop approved.
Ramirez opened his restaurant on Aug. 31, much to the anticipation of all his loyal barbecue fanatics. Ray described his first day at the shop as “overwhelming”, and was down to 15 racks by 3 p.m.
Ray’s reputation has expanded not only to the southland, but across the country as well. Jamie McDonald, owner of Bear’s Smokehouse Barbecue in Windsor, Conn., visited the shop on the day of the grand opening to provide his support to Ray’s dream come true. “It was amazing to see all the support he has from his community; the way everyone came together to help him was great.”
McDonald was also on hand to lend some words of advice to the new pitmaster, advising him to stay consistent in his recipes and never cut corners.
With regard to his menu items, Ray has brought the smoky taste uniquely recognizable with barbecue to the community, while at the same time, including a South and Central American flavor to his recipes. His barbecue sauce has a spicy kick to it, tasting that spicyness found in any traditional salsa; Ray uses peruvian beans for his baked bean recipe, and also adds a hint of cilantro and spices to his potato salad.
In an area mostly known for its myriad establishments that sell Mexican food and food native to Central and South America, Ray’s BBQ is providing a new alternative for everyone, while providing an all-too-familiar feeling.
Downey resident Josue Ochoa, a new customer to the Ray’s BBQ experience, reflected on the effect this new establishment can make to the community and its surrounding cities. “I see that these cities are expanding their places of business and I think they’re thinking outside the box. There aren’t too many barbecue places in Southern California, so to know that you can come to Huntington Park to get some barbecue is great.”
Ray is also aware of the effect of the cultural change this will bring, as well as the possiblity of seeing some rivals in the near future.
“Right now, I’m the only one selling barbecue in a 4-mile radius. Now that I’m open, I know I’ll have another couple of barbecue shops open near me, but I know that’s the way it works.
Ray concluded, “I welcome it because it keeps me on my toes and with 12 million people in LA county, there’s plenty for everybody.”
Ray’s work and information about his restaurant can be found at his Facebook page.