Huntington Beach is sleeping. It’s 5 a.m. on Sunday and sunrise is still a good hour away. But while Surf City digs into its collective blankets just a little bit longer, Brett Beale fires up the smoker at his new restaurant Beale’s Texas BBQ that opened for business in early May.
Beale is not from Texas — he’s a Santa Ana native. He grew up with a single mother, so much of his childhood was spent hanging around the kitchen and watching her cook. Once a backyard hobbyist, the 50-year-old honed his skills with pitmaster Bill Cannon, the president of Texas BBQ Rub, who allowed Beale to compete with his team at the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. Beale opened his first restaurant in the city of Fontana in 2015, but it is no longer in business. Beale’s Texas BBQ is one of the two Black-owned restaurants in Huntington Beach, and one of just two dozen or so in all of Orange County.
At Beale’s latest venture, you’ll find a straightforward menu of St. Louis spares, rib tips, hot links, pulled pork, chicken, and of course, brisket. Beale says it took years to perfect his 24-hour smoked brisket — the result is moist, pink-ringed slabs caked with just the right amount of spice. The dining room fills up almost as soon as Beale opens at 11. [Note: Orange County dining rooms have been ordered to close to reduce the spread of COVID-19 since the time of this interview]
While Beale knew opening a new restaurant would come with challenges, he wasn’t expecting to balance renovations at Peters Landing and securing permits along with COVID-19 measures like social distancing and takeout.
Now open for two months, Beale hopes to expand his hours beyond just weekends soon. But Beale isn’t one to rush things — after all, it took him 20 years to perfect his peach cobbler, a recipe passed down from his great grandmother. Eater talks to Brett Beale about owning a new restaurant in Huntington Beach amid protests, rising meat costs, and an ongoing pandemic.
On opening a new restaurant against economic headwinds and COVID-19: “COVID-19 has affected us tremendously. When the pandemic hit, most of us, especially small businesses, had to shut down. Small businesses have been a cornerstone in America forever and right now we’re suffering. America does about 20 trillion in revenue and small businesses do half of that and employ 60 percent of the workforce — yet we still pay double the tax rate as a big corporation and don’t get exemptions like the big corps do. Then, with rising meat prices, it’s like you’re being double taxed — we’re getting gouged. I haven’t raised my prices. I’m eating the cost right now but if it comes to a point where I have no choice then I might have to.”
On growing up cooking: “One thing we know how to do in my family is cook — these recipes are old and have been passed down for generations — it came from my grandmother, she’s originally from Natchez, Mississippi. But my mom was my biggest influence, she would barbecue for every birthday and holiday, ribs and everything. Even the men can cook, I was standing on a chair at the kitchen stove at five-years-old.”
On cooking with love and his famous BBQ rub: “I’m just a guy that loves to cook and bring people together. You gotta cook with love, low and slow. I want to have that nostalgic effect so when you eat my food it triggers an emotional connection — it takes you back to your moms kitchen, your grandmother’s food, whatever it is for you.”
“I use Bill Cannon’s rub, I call that my gold dust. We have different rubs for everything. And these are all homemade recipes. I blend all of my other rubs myself, I learned from watching my mom. A lot of seasonings and ingredients go into my rub, there’s a little bit of brown sugar in there, and that’s as much as I can tell you.”
On being a Black-owned restaurant amid local Black Lives Matter protests: “This movement is being led by a new generation and it has passed color lines. I was down there on Main Street watching the protesters and 95 percent of them were white. They’re fed up with it. That’s great. That ought to tell you that this is the pulse of the people. It’s happening all around the world. I think this uproar is necessary. Hopefully this becomes a mainstay and we rise up and defend ourselves as people — it really shouldn’t matter if you’re Mexican, white, Black, Asian — we need to get this right as God’s people before he comes down here and turns the lights out on us.”
On entrepreneurship and Santa Ana’s history: “I’m proud to be an African-American business owner in Huntington Beach. When I was growing up, Santa Ana was predominantly Black and white. [The African-American population of Santa Ana grew from 433 in 1950 to 8,232 in 1980.] I lived in the heart of Santa Ana, off of Myrtle Street, in the Myrtle Street apartments — it was home to many African-American families. I was six years old when I realized that a Black man could own a business. Carl Harrison, my friend’s dad, owned Neville’s Auto Shop — located off of First Street in Santa Ana. I remember thinking, ‘I want to own my own business too.’ He really inspired me. There were a lot of black businesses — you had Tippins Sea Food Connection, Duke’s Barber Shop, and Burrell’s BBQ. By the late 1970s, Black families began to move out of Santa Ana, many of them to the Inland Empire, including myself, but Santa Ana will always be home to me.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.