Thick blue smoke rolled out of the double-barrel barbecue set up on Mountain View Drive.
“I’ll give you 500 degrees in Alaska, right before your eyes,” said Theron Biglow, standing in front of the grill, grinning.
Welcome to Cali’s Smokey BBQ & Soulfood.
Theron and his wife, Alicia, are two of the neighborhood’s newest entrepreneurs. From their stand at the Mountain View Drive-In, they serve heaping plates of juicy, tangy barbecue. On opening day in early October, they cooked plump grilled chicken thighs — with sauce and without — deep pans of ribs, stacks of hamburgers and hotdogs and rows of golden ears of grilled corn on the cob. Theron pulled it all from the smoky depths of a charcoal pit grill made from two 55-gallon drums, old-school, “like my dad used to have,” he said. “Authentic barbecue, the way it should be done.”
Cali’s has been cooking for a while now.
Alicia first dreamed about running her own business years ago, back when she worked in the deli at a local Fred Meyer, she said. She knew how to sell barbecue, she realized. An experienced cook, she began thinking about going into business for herself.
Now she and her husband work as a team.
“Alicia is the shine,” Theron said. “This woman right here — she keeps my brain on fire with ideas.”
Cali’s sparked to life in 2016, he said. The couple, who live in Turnagain, sold plates door to door, cooked for neighbors and coworkers, served veterans’ groups and the homeless and catered parties and private events. They barbecued moose and blackened salmon for an Alaska Native wedding at Kincaid Park, and talked their way into selling plates in the lobby of a posh downtown hotel.
In 2017, they said, they decided to aim higher. After running the grill at the Mountain View Farmers Market all summer, Cali’s moved into the outdoor space at the corner of Mountain View Drive and North Klevin Street in October.
Businesses come and go here. Before Cali’s, the space was home to Sultan Shawarma, and a Puerto Rican food cart before that. But Alicia had once dreamed about opening a restaurant in a building on this block, so when they had the opportunity to move into the space at the Mountain View Drive-In it seemed like fate.
“That’s how much the vision worked,” Theron said. “Because we didn’t anticipate that.”
Not at all, Alicia said.
“I never thought it would go this far,” she said. “We’re sitting back saying, ‘It’s really working!’”
Now things are heating up, Theron said. They have big plans. Mountain View is just the beginning.
“We’re really looking to do a lot in Alaska,” he said. “Alaska’s done a lot for us.”
On the first afternoon at the Mountain View Drive-In, he stayed busy tending the grill and bantering with passersby, many of whom became customers. Some had money; some had less money. The price of a plate was always negotiable.
“This is Cali’s,” Theron said. “We’ll work it out.”
Customers made requests: How about some collard greens? You ever cook chitlins?
“I’ve got to get my wallet,” said one man, turning away.
“While you’re doing that, walk with this,” said Theron, holding out a chicken thigh smothered in sauce.
“That’s good!” the man said, taking a second bite, then a third and fourth. “That’s really good.”
“If it’s good, let me hear you say CALI’S, BAYBAY!”
The smell of smoke and sweet, spicy barbecue filled the air. A steady stream of afternoon traffic flowed up and down Mountain View Drive, and pedestrians came and went from the Polynesian restaurant next door and the Asian grocery across the road and the halal market down the street.
“This is a melting pot out here, and everyone comes with their own flare,” Theron said. “We’re just trying to bring the sunshine to the cold.”
For current hours, visit Cali’s online.
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