It only took four months for Holy Smokes BBQ to move from catering to the old U.S. Meal spot. With the help of her family, owner Janis Cota worked through Christmas and the New Year to open her first storefront.
A favorite local caterer, the family started with farmers’ markets in Sonoma before moving to Santa Cruz seven years ago. Her three kids grew up helping out in the kitchen, so Cota says opening a restaurant was a fairly natural progression for them.
They previously did pop ups at East Cliff Brewing, and will now be serving food to the brewery and running the catering business, too. Cota says she wasn’t sure what to expect when they opened, but they have been so busy that they’ve had to hire extra help just to keep up.
Are you hiring other non-family staff?
JANIS COTA: We’ve hired a few people so my kids don’t have to work so much. I’ve hired three people so far, and I’m hiring someone to help me put everything together since I make everything myself—I made the carrot cake and macaroni salad this morning. So she is going to have to video it or write it down, because I have all of my recipes in my head.
My ex-husband and I purchased the barbeque [grill] to do long road trips to Mexico. We would go deep-sea fishing and have a BBQ. It was easy, and I just fell in love with cooking. We’ve had that BBQ since 1996, and when we divorced it helped me support my kids. I never thought I was going to open a restaurant. It’s always been a dream, but when U.S. Meal closed so quickly, it was a right-place-right-time kind of opportunity. It was crazy how it happened.
Your back patio looks amazing!
Yeah, we redid it all. We have a firepit and a rotisserie that we will be doing whole pigs on. We’ll have cornhole and darts, plus we just applied for a beer and wine license, so hopefully we will get that in time for the summer. It is just a cool place to hangout, especially when the sun comes out.