Mike Mansmith never grew up thinking he would make a living in the barbecue business. But over the years, Mansmith, who owns the wildly popular Mansmith’s Barbecue, morphed into a barbecue connoisseur.
“It just happened,” the 44-year-old Mansmith says. “I started out helping my parents (Jon and Juanita) promote their business (Mansmith’s sauce and gourmet spices), and it turned into its own mega business.”
The lifelong San Benito County resident—Mansmith was raised in San Juan Bautista before moving to Hollister 14 years ago—keeps on plugging away for one of the county’s most renowned businesses. With a business marketing degree from Fresno State University, Mansmith blends business savvy with a strong work ethic.
Mansmith and his wife, Shannon, work 60 to 80 hours a week during their busiest time of the year to keep the business cooking. Mansmith’s parents started the business in the late 1980s, selling spices out of their outlet store in San Juan Bautista. They began to cater events in 1990, with Mansmith helping in every aspect of the operation.
“My parents’ spice business evolved into the catering business, which is now its own entity,” says Mansmith, who took over the catering business in 2007 (his parents still run the outlet store). Mansmith’s Barbecue outlet store houses a total of 13 different spices and rubs, two of which won prestigious honors in the past. Their all-purpose low-sodium grilling spice earned an award in the “Best on the Planet” category of the American Royal International Barbecue Competition in Kansas City, and their entire spice line won first-place honors in the Spice Blend category in the National Barbecue Association’s Award of Excellence in Texas.
It’s hard to miss Mansmith’s Barbecue throughout San Benito County. The brand has a presence in stores—with spices sold at Benito Bene and all of the local grocery stores, including Safeway and Nob Hill—and they also host a weekly Friday event in the lot of Bertuccio’s where the public can buy some of their best barbecue food.
Mansmith’s Barbecue offers a variety of options to satisfy the heartiest of meat lovers, including tri-tip, half chicken, pork ribs, pork loin, smoked beef brisket, smoked pork shoulder and whole hogs. When asked what he would cook for himself for a special occasion, Mansmith says: “That’s a tough one—I don’t know. But our tri-tip is definitely our best seller.”
However, it’s not just about the beef. Mansmith’s Barbecue is known for serving up a variety of side dishes that have comfort food written all over them, including barbecued garlic French bread that is rich and buttery on the palate.
Mansmith’s Barbecue also has a major presence at the Hollister Farmers Market, as their black trailer with huge open grill sits alongside the corner of Fifth and San Benito streets. The smell of meats being cooked over the grill wafts throughout downtown, and it’s no surprise the lines at Mansmith’s are some of the longest at the Hollister Farmers Market food court.
“Quality and consistency,” Mansmith says, when asked about his key to success. “Our goal is to continue to do what we’re doing—we’re not really looking to get any larger. We’d like to continue to provide quality food and keep everyone fed and happy.”
During the peak business months—spring, summer and fall—Mansmith rarely takes a day off. There’s simply too much to do, from buying supplies to event preparation to traveling out of the area for special events. When he does catering or special events, Mansmith takes his trailer on site.
“I try to do everything on site to make sure the food is as fresh as possible,” he says. “It’s nice to be able to do these events because they’re all different in their own way, and that means we’re not doing the same thing all the time. Every day is different. There is no such thing as a typical day or week. It’s not a typical nine-to-five job.”
So how does Mansmith keep the job fresh and not get burned out?
“I take a few days off here and there to keep work from driving you crazy,” he says.
Mansmith’s Barbecue is truly a family affair, as Mansmith’s four children—Levi, Bonnie, Gracie and Garrett—are either helping out now or have helped in the past.
Mansmith’s products are available online at mansmith.com or by calling 1.800.626.7648. The Mansmith Barbecue outlet store is located on 490 Mission Vineyard Road in San Juan Bautista.
In a previous version of this article, Mike Mansmith was incorrectly identified as 51. He is 44.