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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Phil’s BBQ Staking Claim in Santee

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

If barbecue is culinary gold in East County, then Santee is about to become the mother lode of mesquite-grilled cuisine.
Phil Pace
Phil’s BBQ and its award-winning menu are coming to the city of 54,000 along the San Diego River that has grown up in the shadow of Cowles Mountain.
The popular purveyor of ribs, pulled pork and tri-tip beef sandwiches will make its debut July 19 at the city’s Blues & BBQ concert at Town Center Community Park.

“It’s the invasion of the killer B’s,” said Bill Maertz, Santee’s Director of Community Services. “We’re presenting authentic blues performances by Bill Magee and Stoney B, along with the best barbecue in the county.”
Actually, the beer garden may qualify as an additional “B.”

Last summer’s inaugural Blues & BBQ concert drew rave reviews and an audience of more than 3,000 people to the city’s riverfront performance stage at southeastern corner of the 55-acre park.
The concert offers the community a chance to savor a first taste of the menu that will be offered when owner Phil Pace opens his third restaurant later this fall in the Santee Trolley Square Shopping Center.

Phil’s BBQ has won a stockyard full of awards, including Best BBQ 2012 by San Diego Magazine and a Gold Medallion from the San Diego Restaurant Assn. They’ve also accumulated an astounding 4,000-plus positive reviews on Yelp, a business website.
Expanding to a third restaurant is necessary to ease the long lines at Phil’s two other locations in Point Loma and San Marcos, and to serve a large percentage of customers who have been coming from the eastern part of the county.

“We don’t know how many people drive off every day because the lines are too long,” said Fred Glick, Phil’s vice president of operations. “Where else do people choose to wait in line? The Department of Motor Vehicles, Disneyland, and here at Phil’s BBQ.”

Pace said he’s hooked on the restaurant business because he’s a people person who views customers as a kind of extended family.
 “It’s nice to have a successful business, but it’s nice to appreciate my customers more,” said Pace. “The biggest challenge is to accommodate people in line to keep them happy.”
The Santee location will feature double the usual number of tap beers and a separate bar for people waiting in line.

Pace, who opened his first restaurant in San Diego’s Mission Hills community in February 1998, has been able to grow his businesses with little to zero advertising. His primary marketing tool is a website and word of mouth.

“I’m most likely to go to a restaurant if it’s been recommended to me by a friend,” he said.
However, he’s breaking with his no-advertising policy for the Santee grand opening by paying to “wrap” an entire Metro Transit trolley car with a Phil’s BBQ ad.
Phil’s expansion team spent three years scouting various East County cities for the best location.

“Parking is a big issue, so we needed to find an area that wasn’t too congested,” said Pace, noting that the search focused on commercial retail zones.

“Even though we control smoke and odor really well now, we didn’t want to be too close to a residential area, where folks can be sensitive to those issues,” he said.

The completion in March 2011 of State Route 52 --a freeway that connects to State Route 67 and State Route 125—gave Santee an edge over other locations being considered because it ensured easy access for everyone in East County, he said.
The new restaurant is being constructed on a 7,000-square-foot site previously occupied by The Roadhouse Grill. Pace is investing approximately $2 million to reconfigure the building and purchase new equipment, such as a $60,000 blast chiller used to rapidly cool barbecued meats for storage in the restaurant’s walk-in cooler.

“Among all the stores I’ve built, this one is our largest investment,” said Pace. “But I’m confident it will be worth it.”

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