Dale Ginos didn’t know the first thing about grilling when he entered the barbecue contest at the inaugural Stagecoach Festival in 2007. Cooking contestants, he discovered, got into the country music festival for a fraction of the ticket price, so he was game to try his luck. Unfortunately, his wife Tammy’s response to the money-saving plan was less enthusiastic.
“I said I’d do it when pigs fly,” she said.
Eight years and many national barbecue prizes later, the Oceanside couple returned to Stagecoach this weekend with their When Pigs Fly BBQ company, which will serve 1 ton of barbecue meat and fixins’ to nearly 5,000 country fans this weekend at the Empire polo grounds in Indio.
When they’re not traveling the country for barbecue cook-offs, the Ginos are manning the smoker at their new restaurant, which opened in September in Vista. When Pigs Fly operates from a takeout counter inside the mini-market at the couple’s Chevron gas station at East Vista Way and Foothill Drive.
Dale said he never expected to fall into the barbecue business late in his career, but he’s happy he did.
“I fell in love with it,” he said. “What’s more fun than seeing people eating good food that you made for them?”
The Ginos, both 57, have five children and 17 grandchildren. Tammy said she was looking forward to a slower-paced life after she stopped teaching special education several years ago. And Dale was an avid golfer in semiretirement. Then he came up with his barbecue scheme.
“I wasn’t into barbecuing so I watched videos on the Internet on how to prepare it and a friend gave me some guidance on how to smoke meats,” he said.
He bought a couple of smokers, experimented with dry rubs and slowly perfected his recipes for chicken, pork and ribs. The only meat he hadn’t tried cooking before the contest in May 2007 was beef brisket. He winged it and ended up taking home the festival’s best brisket prize.
Once word spread in North County about Dale’s award-winning brisket, friends began asking the Ginos to cater their parties. Tammy was initially against the idea.
“I didn’t want to start a catering business, but then I realized that I’d been serving food at school fundraisers and church parties for years. I just never got paid for it,” she said.
Every year, the Ginos went back to Stagecoach to compete. Then in 2013, they were invited to become a festival vendor. The Ginos said it takes a team of 23 people working from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Sunday to serve the barbecue-loving crowds at Stagecoach each year. Dale was especially honored when he was asked to cook for two of his favorite festival artists, the Zac Brown Band and Darius Rucker.
Three years ago, Dale asked Tammy if he could convert an unused portion of their Chevron market into a restaurant. She said “when pigs fly” to that request, too, but ultimately gave in. It opened on Labor Day 2014.
The restaurant’s spice-rubbed meats — pulled pork, short ribs, tri-tip brisket and chicken — are slow smoked over a hickory wood fire and served with choice of house-made sauces, original, bold and extra bold. The side dishes are all family recipes, including Tammy’s smoked mac ‘n’ cheese, coleslaw and peach cobbler. A gas station isn’t an ideal venue for a restaurant, but the Ginos have recently added a 24-seat covered patio near the carwash for al fresco dining.
Digging into heaping plates of ribs and brisket on the patio Monday night were San Marcos residents Dale Costanzo and Rob Witters. Costanzo said he was back for his second visit in a week because he likes the food so much.
“It’s good barbecue,” Costanzo said. “He really knows what he’s doing.”
Dale said he focuses his time these days on product consistency and quality. Tammy oversees the baking and bookkeeping. Two of their children have also joined the business part-time. Daughter Alexandria “Alie” Jones, 26, designed the company’s flying pig logo and daughter McKenzie Boring, 31, is in charge of marketing.
Dale said he’d love to expand to a second location and eventually sell the franchise rights. Tammy said she’s learned to roll with her husband’s entrepreneurial ideas. Traveling to the festival and cook-offs with friends and family have been a fun new chapter of her life.
“Dale’s style is to just jump into things with confidence and everything seems to work out,” she said. “Things here are going great.”