It is 9:30 a.m. and commuters are greeted by the savory smell of ribs being cooked in a smoker on the corner of Citrus Avenue and San Bernardino Road in Covina.
On this corner people will find Ribs to Spare, located at 506 N. Citrus Ave., where owner Joe Wofford serves up bring Chicago-style barbecue to Southern California.
While this establishment started as a catering company six months ago, it has developed a diverse clientele and now offers take-out orders for customers to bring authentic barbecue to their homes.
“It shocked us,” Wofford said. “We’re getting people from all parts.”
Before Ribs to Spare existed, Wofford had a successful job as a regional manager of a construction manufacturer for 27 years, providing products for roofers, homebuilders and architects.
However, when the housing bubble burst in 2008, he was forced to lay off workers, which also made him uncertain about his own job security.
“I knew at some point they were going to let me go also,” Wofford said. “No one was going to pay me what I was worth.”
While searching for another career, Wofford remembered barbecueing with friends and family back in Chicago to perfect his work. Figuring out the right amount of sugar, the right temperature to cook the ribs: a memorable experience.
“I’ve always enjoyed feeding friends,” Wofford said. “Sometimes we even joked that I should open a barbecue place.”
He decided to give it a chance with his wife, Joann, and daughter, Malia. When they found this property just outside of downtown Covina, he and Joann created the menu.
While Wofford handles the main course like the slow-cooked ribs, hot links and barbecue chicken – Joann has presented homemade desserts from the South such as sweet potato pie and peach cobbler.
Malia did a great job with the internet marketing, like creating a website displaying fresh collard greens and mouth-watering potato salad.
What jump started their business was Wofford’s selling skills, which helped him get customers like people from Southern California Edison, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Dr. Phil Show.”
“When we got customers like that, we realized we were into something good,” Wofford said.
Wofford was also amazed that when he signed a campaign with Living Social, it sold over 500 vouchers in the first week.
These customers eventually became regulars and Ribs to Spare’s main marketing strategy is word-of-mouth; people just praising these meals and writing great reviews on yelp.com.
“It put us on the map that nobody knew we existed,” Wofford said.
Merle Hurst, Covina resident and regular customer, appreciates the effort they put into their food, whether it is rubbing the herbs in the pork ribs or selling a sweet potato pie that has people mesmerized with one bite.
“Their sweet potato pie is just out of this world,” Hurst said.
With Covina not having many barbecue establishments, Joann is glad bring food people can enjoy. Some praises customers give are unexpected.
“It’s hilarious because we will have people try our food and say, ‘we haven’t had this in 20 years,’” Joanna said.
Wofford’s main goal now is to stay consistent, having Ribs to Spare as his new chapter.
“When I feel confident if we keep making great food and service, our customer base will grow and grow,” Wofford said.
Alex Forbess can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.