the menu simple and doing it better than anyone else is the
principle on which Chef Gil (Gonzo) Gonzales and Co-Owner
Kurt Baker opened BA-BA-Q’S™ this year. You can
take it out or you can dine in. Either way, you’re
getting fresh food made by hand. Nothing is frozen and all
items on the menu are made to order. French fries are cut
by hand from real potatoes, meat comes from Blue Mountain
Meats in Monticello, and Gil’s barbecue sauce is made
from Chimayo peppers that come only from one small town in
New Mexico. This is truly artisan food.
Gil’s first experience in feeding people was far from
artisan food: he was a mess cook feeding 1,700 hungry sailors
on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. He
found himself liking to cook, but after frying chicken from
4:00am to 7:00pm, he decided there must be a better way. Gil
worked his way up to the “blue tile area,”eventually
becoming personal cook to the ship Captain, and then working
for Admiral Robert L. Tony, one of the few black admirals in
the U.S. Navy, based in San Francisco. “When you work
for these guys, you do a lot more than just cooking. You get
their clothes together, chauffeur them on trips, go everywhere
with them, get to know their families. It was a lot of fun,” Gil
The experience of institutional cooking made Gil curious to
learn more about techniques. The Navy allowed him to take classes
at the California School for Culinary Arts on the G.I. Bill
where he graduated as a certified chef. This is where Gil earned
his nickname of Gonzo – “because I was just crazy
in the kitchen.” After ten years in the Navy, Gil said
goodbye to the sea and moved to Colorado.
In Fort Collins, Gil got back into institutional cooking for
Monford Corporation Feedlots. For two years Gil fed some thousand
employees daily. Gil says, “What people eat has a direct
impact on how they’re going to work. If you feed them
heavy foods, they’re dragging, so I tried to incorporate
leaner foods such as egg white scrambles into the menu.”
When Gil sold that business, he spent a couple of years in
Denver cooking at various restaurants, then again started his
own business, Boulder Beverage Company, with Brian Gansmann.
In two years the business was taking in $2.5 million annually.
In this first experience of running a competitive company in
retail sales, he learned how to trademark, find suppliers and
distributors, market strategies – “the whole nine
yards.” Their products, drink mixers, ended up in Super
Targets, Sam’s Club, Costco, and Trader Joe’s.
After five years, he and Brian sold that business to Classic
The stage was now set for a move to Moab. Gil had been coming
here to play for several years, so when the owners of Zax offered
him a kitchen manager’s position, he jumped at it. From
Zax, Gil moved to Red Cliffs Lodge as Colin Fryer’s executive
chef. About that time, he decided to settle here and bought
a house with five acres of land in Castle Valley. The next
few years taught Gil invaluable lessons about the food service
industry in Moab, big and small, with stints at Moab Brewery,
the Outlaw Saloon, Milt’s, Blue Mountain Food Service,
and the deli at Moab Grocery.
“The Culinary Arts School teaches its chefs to create
signature dishes at each place they work, then leave the recipes
when they move on. If the owners keep the signature dish, you
know they liked it. It makes you feel good.” Gil’s
signature dishes, such as Albuquerque Turkey, are still on
the menu at several local eateries.
Good Ingredients, Good Prices, Good Service.
All of these experiences came together when Gil opened his
own restaurant this year. He decided to specialize in barbecued
food and make it the best barbecue around, part of his “keep
it simple” philosophy.
BA-BA-Q’S smokes its own meat and makes its own potato
salad. Gil is proud of the fact that “Everything on this
menu is made from scratch. Even though this is fast food, I
do everything fresh.”
Gil has also set up his operation to keep prices reasonable.
A barbecue pork sandwich is $6.99 with a side; a full rack
of beef or pork ribs goes for $14.99, including all the fixins.
The menu will change based on customer preferences: some dishes
will be dropped, new dishes such as sweet potato fries and
pies will be added. Over the winter, new dishes will be tried
out – homemade chili, posole soup, chowders, “But
we’ll still be sticking to the basics,” Gil says.
Fresh food and reasonable prices are only two of the cornerstones
of BA-BA-Q’S. Good service is the third. Gil looks for
employees with “ experience, a great smile, a positive
attitude, and the desire to make it work.”
He is well aware that without good employees, he wouldn’t
be in business. “I don’t ask my employees to do
anything I wouldn’t do. They don’t work for me – we
work with each other. If you’re the owner, you need to
be involved in the business. I wash dishes, mop floors, cut
cabbage, anything that needs doing.”
Gil wants his employees to feel a part of the business. “I
want my employees to think of me as another worker. When there
is a problem, we work it out. We stop. We think about it. We
help each other out.”
We’ll Make it Right
“If customers say the meal isn’t what they thought
it would be -- well, you just have to make sure it is. If not,
I won’t be in business long. This is a small town. People
will come in to check out your food, but if they don’t
like it, they’ll be gone. If somebody is not happy, we
want to hear about it. There is no bad comment. My reputation
is on the line and if the meal isn’t as good as you expected,
don’t leave until we make it right.”
Restaurants come and go, but Gil is in this for the long haul. “I
want people to know that I’m here to stay.” BA-BA-Q’S
currently seats 25 and he wants to expand to 80 seats as soon
as possible. Gil plans to open a
BA-BA-Q’s in Cortez in 2007 and Richfield in 2008, eventually
creating a franchise.
That’s a lot of expan-sion is a short time.
Gil knows that. He grins when he says, “As an entrepreneur,
you have to take a chance. Don’t be afraid. If you fall
down, you can always brush your knees off and get back up.
You only live once and you have to remember it’s only
money. You just try not to worry about it.”
OF THE MONTH
RIBS AND MORE
of the Month by Gil “Gonzo” Gonzales
SMOKED HONEY APPLE
GRILLED PORK CHOPS
4-Center Cut Pork Chops
½-Cup of Lemon Juice
½-Teaspoon Black Pepper
1 ½-Cup Apple Cider
½-Cup Kikkoman Soy Sauce
1-Clove Garlic, Minced
Combine All the Ingredients Except the Pork Chops.
Mix Well, Place the Pork Chops in a Shallow Dish;
Pour Marinade Over the Chops, Cover and Refrigerate
Overnight, Turning Occasionally, Remove Pork Chops
from Marinade, Reserve the Marinade. Grill Over Mesquite
Wood for 10-15 Minutes, Turning and Basting with
Marinade Every Few Minutes. Plate and Serve.
Enjoy with a glass of wine
from Round Mountain Vinyards.
I chose this recipe for its
wonderful fall flavor. Enjoy!
A high-energy guy, Gil has plans and more plans.
Some years ago, Gil participated in “A Taste of Colorado,” a
tasting party in the park. He would like to organize another
of these events in Moab, pulling in all the diverse culinary
skills of chefs not only from Moab, but also from Monticello,
Blanding, Green River, and Grand Junction.
With several local chefs credentialed to train apprentices,
Gil thinks Moab would be a great location for a branch campus
of the California School of Culinary Arts.
Gil is serious about teaching local seminars. An experience
in which he delights was showing up at the Saturday Farmer’s
Market. “I got fresh produce and incorporated it into
two or three dishes to show people how to use vegetables
in a more flavorful way. That was a lot of fun.”
In Castle Valley, Gil sits on the Zoning and Planning Board.
This year he is in charge of the parade and food at the Castle
Valley Gourd Fest on October 21. We won’t give away
the surprises, but it safe to assume that the parade and
eats will be Very Interesting.
After BA-BA-Q’S first month of
operation, Gil is enthused and thankful to hungry Moabites. “After
our first 30 days, we’re paying expenses, we’re
rolling. And for a new restaurant, that’s unheard of.
Our customers are coming back. It’s working.”
Looks like keeping it simple and doing it better than anyone
else is a pretty good recipe.
Sidebar: COWS AND CORN
Feeding Monford Feedlot employees, Gil
learned “a really wild lesson.” They had beef
everyday, and for a starchy vegetable, he served corn on
the cob. Trouble was, they weren’t eating it, and they
started to boycott meals. Gil couldn’t figure out why.
Then one of Monford’s bosses took him aside and said, “Gil,
what do cows eat?”
“Well, they eat corn and corn mash,” Gil said.
“If you feed the guys corn, they think you’re
looking down on them.”
“Let me get this straight: they won’t eat the
corn but they’ll eat the cow?”
Yep, that was pretty much it.
Gil never served them corn on the cob again.