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.”