10.5: STONEFIRE is Family

For as long as I can remember, Isaias has been a permanent fixture in STONEFIRE behind the glass, working our grill.  He has worked in every STONEFIRE as our trainer, bringing his skills to each new team we build.  Our relationship began over 20 years ago when we opened Rattler’s Bar-B-Que in Santa Clarita.  Rattler’s is our full service BBQ restaurant that continues to thrive, now more than 20 years later.  I know it’s because of people like Isaias.

We both have two children the same ages.  As the years went by, we always asked each other about ‘the kids’.  I will never forget the day he told me his almost 15 year-old daughter was causing him lots of headaches.

I immediately went to the worst case scenario, and then he said to me, “I told her if she was a good girl and did well in school and worked hard, when she turned 15 I would take her to Mexico for her quinceañera, and now, I have to do it!”

Eventually, his daughter, Evette, and her brother, Israel, joined the STONEFIRE Team.  We are lucky, very lucky.

About 8 years ago, Isaias started asking me to join him for his vacation in his hometown of Guanajuato, Mexico.  He chooses December because it is the biggest festival of the year, a 10-day event culminating in the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  All of Mexico celebrates with a unique twist in each town.  December is a very busy month for STONEFIRE, and every year I’ve declined the invitation – until last year.  My sister and I, along with our husbands, flew to Isaias’ hometown last December for a four-day adventure, one we will not soon forget.

Isaias’ extended family has also worked with us over the years.  His three cousins, Francisco, Chilino and Miguel, made the decision to move back to Mexico in 2004 to open their own pizza business.  I am happy to say they are doing well and now have four small restaurants.  On the day of our arrival, all four were closed, as they took the day off and made the trip with Isaias to greet us at the airport. Isaias’ parents, who visit Los Angeles twice per year, welcomed us at the door of their home on a ranch in the country.  They were so honored to have us that it left me feeling overwhelmed and humbled by their generosity and appreciation of our effort to visit. We couldn’t have felt more at home.

Our travels took us to the larger cities of Leon, Guadalajara and Guanajuato and to all the small towns in between.   We toured by day and arrived at the festival by night.  In the small streets, age-old customs came to life before our very eyes.  Generations filled the plazas and streets as both religious and cultural events collided.  The procession to the church was followed by music, dancing and food. There was the boy/girl walk in the park where opposite sexes paced in contrasting directions, making eye contact and choices.  When a boy saw a girl of interest, he would ask her to walk with him away from the circle.  The custom is simple, practical and timeless, so Mexican and so rich.

And then there was the food. Yes, the food!  The streets were filled with vendors selling traditional Mexican dishes.  We feasted on grilled corn on the cob smothered in mayonnaise, homemade potato chips, traditional Mexican tacos made with a variety of meats.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss, especially for me when it came to the brain! Sure, it was good, but had I known ahead of time, I would have had a hard time stomaching that one.  We resisted the desserts, but said ‘yes’ to ‘ponche’, a hot fruit punch that was delicious, but it was made even better by the small bottle of tequila Francisco carried in his jacket!

On our second night, I was surprised by a dear old woman who smiled and tightly hugged me.  She spoke to me in Spanish and thanked me for providing a job for her sons.  It was Maria, the mother of Francisco, Chilino and Miguel.  I thanked her in return, making sure she knew that business would not be possible without hardworking and honest people like her family members.

As we returned home after midnight each day, we were greeted by Isaias’ mother with homemade tortillas, hot tea and once again, Francisco’s bottle of tequila. Rich tradition, wonderful food, generous people and the comforts of simplicity – these things describe our Mexican adventure.

As we dressed early in the morning for the airport, my husband was greeted by a scorpion sitting on his jeans.

“Pretty common,” said Isaias.  “Get over it and come back!” his underlying message.

I saw Isaias last week as he worked and taught on the grill in Thousand Oaks.  I smiled and reminded him, “December is just around the corner.”

 

10.6: Countdown to 9/26

So, we thought we’d take a break from the entries of late to give you some quick information about our 10th Anniversary Celebration.  Here are the details:

On Sunday, September 26, 2010, at our Valencia location from 11am to 3pm:

The first 3,000 guests to arrive and donate a minimum of $1 to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will be treated to a delicious buffet of BBQ Tri Tip, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, BBQ Chopped Salad and our Freshly Baked Breadsticks.  Pepsi soft drinks and bottled water will also be served.

We’re also creating THE WORLD’S LARGEST CARROT CAKE, a 10’x10′ monstrosity, for everyone to enjoy!

Entertainment will be provided by KEARTH 101 and local high schools feauturing Canyon Jazz Band, West Ranch Cheerleaders, Hart Show Choir, Valencia Dance Team, Golden Valley Jazz Band and Saugus Dance Team.  In addition, local ROTC members have generously volunteered their time to be of service to everyone!

If you can’t make it to Valencia, stop by any other STONEFIRE Grill location on 9/26, donate at least $1 to CFF and receive a FREE dessert voucher for your next visit (valid 9/27/10 – 10/31/10).

We hope to raise $20,000 for this worthy cause, so please lend your support to the community and one another as we commemorate 10 YEARS STRONG.

And, of course, continue celebrating with us as we offer the Taste of STONEFIRE – THE complete individual meal for only $10 (dine in only)!

10.7: Three Restaurants in One

Back in the late ’90s, when we first started to conceptualize STONEFIRE Grill, we had a vision of what we wanted.  We focused on three main components that would soon define STONEFIRE.  Simplified service with varied menu choices, takeout and catering, all offering delicious food and value to our guests, would set us apart from the rest.

We began with our service.  At STONEFIRE, we veer away from the traditional restaurant staff. That means no hosts or hostesses and no exclusive servers.  We decided to adopt a model that allowed our guests to pay first, collect condiments, utensils and beverages, take a seat and let us do the rest.  At the time, it was rare and usually only done by fast food restaurants, but over the course of 10 years, what is now known as ‘fast-casual’ dining, our service style, has become very popular.  We were very unique at the time we opened in 2000 and our guests, slightly confused at first, began to catch on and love it!  STONEFIRE provides an opportunity to enjoy a very fast meal without waiting for a final bill and the traditional gratuity. Any tips left are divided amongst all of our non management team evenly, which encourages them all to work together. We also designed the restaurant to feel like a comfortable extension of home, and if our guests decide to stay to enjoy our atmosphere and each other, that is welcomed, too.

Our menu was created to encourage frequent visits, offering a good variety of freshly prepared and simply delicious choices.  We were and often continue to be shocked and surprised that our idea is reality!  We regularly have guests that visit us several times per week.  Yesterday in Thousand Oaks, a wonderful older gentleman reminded me that we met our opening week.  He told me that since then, he spends more time in STONEFIRE than any of our management team!  We love it.

‘Takeout’ was a word growing up that I only identified with Chinese food.  In my home, with lots of mouths to feed, my mom gave us a very rare treat with Chinese takeout or an occasional pizza.  Today, takeout meals have become a part of our lifestyle.  Over the years, many restaurants have begun to offer meals to-go, but I still strongly insist, nobody does it as well as STONEFIRE!  Wanting our kitchen to be an extension of our guests’ kitchens, we focus on meals for families and individuals that are just what you might make at home after a visit to the grocery store.  STONEFIRE eliminates the shopping and cooking, providing exceptional meals at value prices.  Our fresh salads, grilled meats, tasty side items and more provide time-saving alternatives for our busy lives.  Our takeout continues to grow with each location we open and we are happy and proud to cook for all of you, our guests.

A catered meal was another foreign concept to me growing up.  I associated ‘catering’ with fancy meals for weddings and elegant parties that only certain people could afford.  Knowing that many of us would love to have an event or party ‘catered’ but don’t typically like the high cost associated with it, we developed a simple and delicious catering menu using our menu items.   We train our team members to cater a party for any occasion – weddings, birthdays, office events, company picnics, showers and simple gatherings.  Our catering has become so popular that it was featured on the Style Network for a great catered meal on a budget.  We never pretend to be fancy, just efficient, affordable and delicious! Last Saturday, STONEFIRE served as the caterer for 12 weddings throughout Los Angeles and Orange County along with several other celebrated events throughout the day. Whatever your need may be, we are excited to be a part of it!

The next time you are in the mood for a great meal, visit us and we’ll make it for you. Call ahead and pick it up, or for those times when you need us to come to you, let’s plan together so we can be there for you.

Three restaurants in one.  That is STONEFIRE Grill!

We look forward to seeing so many of you tomorrow in Valencia as we celebrate 10 YEARS STRONG.

Sincerely,

Mary Harrigan