Calexico fire inspector fires up the grill
Humberto Felix prepares ribs outside of his restaurant in Calexico on Wednesday evening. (STEVEN ESPERANZA PHOTO / June 26, 2013)
While many have tried his ribs and tri-tip at various fundraisers over the years, it wasn’t until his mother’s recent death that Felix was spurred to take his talent to the professional level.
“I always told her when I retired I’d open the restaurant,” he said. “Before she died, she told my dad to watch over me and help me open the restaurant.”
Felix’s mother died of cancer March 31.
“That’s what prompted him to say I’m going to make my mom’s wishes come true,” his wife, Josie Felix, said. “He went full force and said I’m going to make it or break it.”
While not yet retired, at his father’s urging Felix had a soft opening for his barbecue restaurant by Father’s Day.
Since then, it’s been a whirlwind adventure for the firefighter and his family as they help each other to run the small operation mainly patronized so far by city staff, other firefighters and officers.
The menu is simple, with ribs, tri-tip, brisket, chicken, sausage as well as sides like corn and mashed potatoes.
And Felix takes his cooking as seriously as fire code.
He started cooking 20 years ago and has won Holtville’s annual rib cook-off multiple times while placing in many others.
Once, he even cooked 5,000 pounds of barbecue for an event, the most he’s ever done at once.
The restaurant is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, and Felix comes in at 5:30 a.m. to cook the ribs before heading to his 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job as fire inspector.
After work, he heads right back to the restaurant to the amazement of his co-workers, family and friends.
“They say, ‘You’re working 16- to 18-hour days,’ but for me, it’s not work because when I’m cooking, it’s relaxing. It’s a pleasure,” he said.
His wife joked that she first thought he’d lost his mind to try to juggle working the two jobs but added that she knows it’s his passion. Even despite the fact that she doesn’t eat much meat, she’s supporting the restaurant however she can.
“Semi-vegan or not, I need to be here by his side,” she said while laughing. “If anything, we’ve seen a lot of good friends stop by and support us so that helps.”
The fire inspector also used to coach local youth football and baseball teams, and now former players are stopping in as well.
“For him, that’s the highlight. He really looks forward to seeing his former players stop by and get something to eat,” Josie explained.
He has no history of professional culinary or restaurant business training, and people tell him he’s crazy to start out at the slowest business time of year, but he’s unfazed.
“We have a year to try it out and if it does or doesn’t do well, I still have a day job,” he said while laughing.
News of the restaurant has been slowly spreading in the community and the restaurant is already booking multiple catering jobs as well.
“By word of mouth people are getting to know there’s a rib place in Calexico, and like any business, they have slow periods and busy hours, but it’s nonetheless been adventurous,” Josie Felix said.
El Mesquite Barbeque Grill is at 313 E. 2nd St. and is cash only. Call the restaurant at 760-554-9843 for more information.
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or email@example.com.