The final time I talked to Rene “Ray” Ramirez was inside his restaurant, Ray’s Texas BBQ in Huntington Park, California in 2018. He was a 12 months faraway from a go to by a Los Angeles Instances meals critic, the late Jonathan Gold, and was nonetheless giddy over the legendary tastemaker praising his brisket. Ramirez additionally shared his pleasure a couple of barbecue analysis journey he had deliberate along with his son Sebastian to North Carolina after many earlier visits to Texas. This previous week, I visited the restaurant once more, and talked with Sebastian and his youthful brother Raul, who’re nonetheless grieving the lack of their father ten months in the past. Sebastian stated I noticed Ray at a excessive level in his profession in 2018, however his melancholy was ever current. “The final two years, I noticed my dad falling aside,” he stated. Ray took his personal life on February 7 on the age of 47, abandoning his two sons, a younger daughter, and his spouse, Anabell.
That horrible day was a Monday, and the next day, Anabell huddled with Sebastian, Raul, and their longtime worker and household buddy Laura Sandoval to carve a path ahead. “She is the one who informed us we had been going to open up Wednesday as a result of that was going to be our remedy,” Sebastian recalled about his mom’s message. The restaurant closed for under a day. “My dad left a legacy that my mom, brother, and I’ll keep on for generations to come back,” Sebastian wrote in a Ray’s Texas BBQ Instagram put up welcoming prospects again. The emotional strife was laborious sufficient to beat, however there was one other hurdle the household was simply coming to grips with: None of them had actually cooked the barbecue earlier than. “My first expertise with actual barbecue was after my dad handed away,” Sebastian admitted.
“He was somewhat impatient when it got here to educating, and at all times needed to maintain the usual excessive,” Raul stated. (Right here’s a full interview with Ray in 2017 by Kevin’s BBQ Joints.) Ray was arms on; he was a perfectionist. Sebastian remembers solely as soon as when his dad let him trim brisket. Ray inspired them to observe, however hardly ever allow them to truly work with the meat. “He by no means let me get my arms soiled,” Sebastian stated, which made him think about on the lookout for a job aside from working the register on the household’s restaurant. At present, he’s glad he caught round, saying “[barbecue] was a ardour we at all times had, and we’re lastly in a position to present it.”
“The primary two months had been a tough two months,” Raul stated about reopening after his dad’s passing. Clients got here out to help the restaurant after the tragedy, and the household needed to present their greatest effort. “We didn’t need individuals to know we didn’t know what we had been doing,” Sebastian stated. Twenty-year-old Raul put faculty on maintain to share pitmaster duties with Sebastian, 24. Anabell continued getting ready the perimeters, and Sandoval nonetheless slices all of the meat to order. The brothers had been fast learners, figuring out the recent spots throughout the pit room’s two J&R Smoke-Grasp people who smoke, however not earlier than screwing up a number of briskets. Getting the fires to burn clear was additionally a problem at first. “Fortunately, we’re at a greater place now,” Sebastian stated.
At any time when they had been caught, they consulted with their late father by means of the video directions he had filmed for them. “The primary few instances I needed to seize [my dad’s] cellphone to see the pictures and the movies he had made,” Sebastian stated. “It was like reopening the wound, but in addition he was placing me and my brother on monitor.” In a type of movies on brisket trimming, Sebastian had captured the primary time Ray broke down and shared the story of the childhood abuse he suffered. In tears, Sebastian informed me the trauma lingered in Ray’s nightmares that haunted him till the top. His father’s dying was devastating, however with that understanding, Sebastian centered on forgiveness.
The household persevered and are serving barbecue that will make Ray proud. The brisket had that smoke ring Ray at all times strived for, and the smokiness and tenderness had been good. They hadn’t began making their very own sausage the final time I visited, so the house-made jalapeño and cheese hyperlinks had been a nice shock on this current cease. Raul riffed with some seasonings and sauce to present the pork ribs a novel vinegary tang to steadiness the sweetness. Ray informed me again in 2018, about his barbecue, “the rationale I’m so pleased with it’s as a result of no person taught me do it.” Which may clarify why he couldn’t relinquish these obligations when he was working the restaurant, however his sons have discovered him to be a useful instructor after his passing.
Raul and Sebastian wish to deepen their data with a barbecue journey of their very own. They’re planning a tour of Texas subsequent 12 months to discover the newly well-known joints which are open to educating them about Texas barbecue. “We gotta attempt Goldee’s,” Sebastian stated excitedly.
“Barbecue is a really macho factor to do,” Sebastian noticed, so he feels it necessary to share the reality of his household’s tragedy after seeing his dad attempt to cover his personal stress and anxiousness for years. “My remedy is smoking [meat] and telling everybody we all know our story,” he stated. He additionally shared a dialog he had with Ray firstly of this 12 months. “I informed my dad that it was going to be the worst 12 months, but in addition the perfect 12 months,” Sebastian stated, and Ray had agreed. They had been hopeful in regards to the enterprise’s development after the COVID shutdowns, however knew they might face inflation and a difficult economic system.
The Ramirez household continues to grieve the loss that rendered Sebastian’s phrases sadly prophetic, however they’re additionally making an attempt to deal with their new presents. They’ve reconnected with many purchasers they hadn’t seen in years, and simply two months in the past, Sebastian and his girlfriend Evelyn had a child boy. They had been ready to share the information with their dad and mom till the being pregnant was additional alongside. Ray died not understanding he was going to be a grandfather. “I needed the little child to raise him up,” Sebastian informed me in tears. However he is aware of Ray is watching over all of them. Within the early morning when he arrives to have a tendency the pits, Sebastian stated, “I stroll in right here and really feel like my dad’s right here.”
Ray’s Texas BBQ
6038 Santa Fe Avenue, Huntington Park, California
Hours: Tues-Sat 10-3
Pitmasters: Sebastian and Raul Ramirez
Methodology: Mesquite and oak in a cupboard smoker
Yr opened: 2014