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Small Business Highlight: Starr BBQ

Mario & Santa Gonzalez, owners of Starr BBQ

Barbecue Traditions in Rio Grande City

In 2009, Mario and Santa Gonzalez took over a small restaurant and fine-tuned their passion for barbecue, blending traditional North Texas flavor with Rio Grande Valley zest to create a flavor unique to Rio Grande City.

Mario worked as a wastewater treatment plant operator and Santa was an at-home provider. Finding themselves between careers, an opportunity arose that enabled them to take skills honed at backyard barbecues and open a business. In the beginning, Mario was master of the pit and Santa, a guru of cuisine and like the time it takes to smoke a side of brisket; their venture was a labor of love and patience.

Forward ten years, Santa is now pit master and orchestrates her kitchen staff with artistry and pragmatic attention to detail while Mario handles the day-to-day operations of the restaurant; radiating enthusiasm as he looks to expand the barbecue experience in Rio Grande City.

Starr BBQ has been a family affair since then with their children, nieces, siblings, and in-laws all working together to bring quality service to their customers.

Mario & Santa with Starr BBQ staff

What do you do to keep your menu new and exciting?

When traveling, we eat at other barbecue restaurants, especially those with good reviews or that are famous by word of mouth. We compare their offerings against ours and decide if we need to make additions or improvements to our menu. We’re open to incorporating new menu items if we feel they are a good addition to the restaurant. One example is our most popular item, the rattlesnake egg. It’s not really an egg, but a stuffed jalapeno with our own signature spin to it. We named it after Rio High School’s mascot, the rattlesnake, because when you bite into them, they bite back.

We all know service is key. How important is customer service in your restaurant?

My expectation is for everyone that walks into our restaurant to have the best experience possible. Our staff knows customer service is very important and to always, no matter what kind of day you are having; tend to our customers with a smile.

What kind of marketing and advertising have you done?

Starting out, we didn’t have a budget and relied on word of mouth. Now we have social media. I started listening to Gary Vaynerchuk’s podcasts. He’s a motivational speaker, digital marketing and social media expert. One of his points that stuck with me was: “If you have a business and you’re not growing, it’s because you’re lazy. You have everything right here in your phone; Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and it’s free.” We use Facebook and Instagram and my daughter helps us manage and create content for our posts.

What advice would you give someone starting a career in the restaurant field?

Be confident and believe in what you are going to do. Don’t be afraid of change. Change can be good. Change to make it better for your customers. Over time, your customer base may shift change and you have to be willing to adjust to your customers needs.

What do you do when you’re not working at the restaurant?

I love to stay busy. Right now, we have an e-commerce site where we resell brand name clothing, shoes, accessories, and electronics. We go thrifting and buy items. Then, I’ll clean and iron clothing, take photos, and post on the site, package and ship.

Quick Facts

Starr BBQ

1300 W. Main Street • Rio Grande City, Texas 78582 • (956) 488-0555

Would you like to see your business showcased in this series? Email or call (956) 487-3476.


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