For meat lovers, there is nothing better than good barbecue accompanied by a cold beer. But many Valley residents often find themselves asking themselves, “Where can I go for barbecue?” On Oct. 12 there will be an answer to that question, The Ranch Hand Café.
What was originally started as a catering business quickly transformed into a full blown lunch and dinner restaurant after owners Jesus Belman and Andy Barbee realize the potential of their product.
Much like tradition southern barbecues, The Ranch Hand will be counter services with entrees being delivered on butcher paper and treys. Barbee shared that Ranch Hand plans to serve pulled pork, chicken, St. Louis ribs and tri-tip, in addition to select sides. “Our aim is to have meat so good you won’t need sauces but we will have a few signature ones,” said Barbee.
The Ranch Hands will be purchasing their meat from local butcher, Exeter Meats. Barbee has been a loyal patron of the business for a number of years. The restaurant also plans on offering a limited selection of local beers and wines. “We are keeping it simple as well we’re trying to buy from as many local businesses as possible,” shared Barbee.
Although the Ranch Hands had minimal renovations on the inside of the building they were able to transform the outdoor seating area. What was once an eye sore, used as a dumping ground for unwanted equipment is now a tranquil covered patio complete with a wooden overhead and hand made picnic tables. Diners will also be able to view the heartbeat of The Ranch Hand Cafe, a custom made smoker. The smoker was created especially for Belman and Barbee from a welder located in Porterville and can accommodate up to 90 pork butts.
Both chefs have dedicated their adulthood to their love of cooking. Barbee began his culinary journey working at the W in Chicago before moving back to California where he went to work in San Luis Obispo. He eventually landed back in the Central Valley where he worked as a butcher or familiar restaurants such as Orange Blossom Junction in Exeter and Cherry Tree Catering in Porterville. He was also a chef at Café Rousseau in Fresno’s Tower District. More recently, Barbee has been a chef at Exeter’s Monet’s Wine and Bistro. It was while working at Monet’s that Belman and Barbee began discussing the possibility of starting a restaurant.
Belman grew up in Exeter and gives local restaurateur Fred Imbert credit for his success. “Fred gave me my first opportunity. He took me under his wing at Monet’s for six years,” said Belman. He went on to say that growing up he always loved to cook and spent many hours in the kitchen learning from his first teacher, his mother. Although Belman didn’t attend culinary school he realizes how fortunate he has been to learn from Imbert, who gave him the opportunity to explore his culinary career.
“I love cooking but I love being a restaurateur,” said Belman.
The Ranch Hand’s third owner, James K. Purcell is not a chef but has a deep appreciation for the work both Belman and Barbee have done. According to Purcell, “They brought me in being that I could eat and I also help with finances.”
According to Barbee interest in The Ranch Hand has been growing day-to-day. The greatest example of their barbecue buzz was the creation of the restaurant’s Facebook page. “By the end of the day we have 300 likes. My phone was going off like crazy,” said Barbee. The Ranch Hand owners stated that If all goes according to plan they are set to open on Monday, Oct. 12. The Ranch Hand Café is located at 141 S. Filbert Rd. in Exeter.