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.”


The Beginning

Ever noticed the murals at our restaurants? They tell a unique story, one specific to the Harrigan family, and we’re here to share it with you.

As an homage to the roots that helped establish who we are, we intend to feature pictures from the our family murals to tell the story of the Harrigan, STONEFIRE and our culture/values. As every story needs a great beginning, the key to ours rests in the Harrigan family patriarch, a man driven by purpose. John “Jack” Louis Harrigan set out to instill the values of hard work and mutual respect for others in each of his 9 children, and these values form the foundation of our business, our happiness to serve.

How did these values show up in Jack’s life? Long before starting a family with his beloved wife, Mary Lou, Jack aspired to greatness at Notre Dame where he pursued his BA in Engineering. He also followed his passion for golf and attained the collegiate course record at Notre Dame (which still stands today!). These goals were cut short, though, for like countless other men at the time, Jack was called to serve our country, as a member of the US Navy.  He was called to an accelerated engineering program at MIT before being deployed to the South Pacific in WWII.  Following this, he returned to Southern California to finish his education, settle down and raise his family in the San Fernando Valley.

The lessons learned during his years of service carried over to his Harrigan family and, in turn, made their way into ours, the STONEFIRE family.  Hard work and mutual respect were integral to the dynamic around him, and they’re equally important to the STONEFIRE team. With a clear understanding of these core concepts, we seek to impact the lives of our guests, our communities and one another each and every day.

Our restaurant murals tell a story; they serve as a reminder of where we came from and where we’re headed. The foundation of our direction remains firmly planted in our actions, something we hold close to us.

This is our great beginning, the first of many stories.