There is no beard, no bow tie and no plans to franchise Phil’s BBQ, which Pace created 16 years ago as “a small place serving a little bit of barbecue and having fun doing it.”
“Look at what I am today. Something went wrong,” joked the 52-year-old Pace.
An Ohio transplant, Pace’s “barbecuedom” now includes 400 employees at three full-fledged restaurant sites on Sports Arena Boulevard in the Midway District, in Santee and San Marcos. He recently opened a smaller outlet with a more limited menu in San Diego Lindbergh Field’s new airport terminal.
Phil’s BBQ moved from cramped quarters in Mission Hills a few years ago to its headquarters site at 3750 Sports Arena Blvd., close to everything: the airport, freeways, motels and hotels, the beaches, SeaWorld and Petco Park and downtown San Diego.
The son of an Italian restaurateur, Pace continues to follow his father’s advice, which was, “The only person you need to compete with is yourself,” and “Just try and wake up every day and not make the same mistakes you made yesterday.”
And one other pearl of wisdom imparted from father to son, “Do what you do best.”
That’s why Phil’s will always be Phil’s: Pace knows — and respects — his limitations.
Pace ticked off the qualities — consistency, service, cleanliness, quality — that make his or any other restaurant a cut above the rest.
“The idea is to keep the consistency going,” said Pace, noting you can’t do that if you grow your business too fast.
Reasonable prices are part of the successful mix, too.
“People work hard today for their money,” said Pace. “They can come here and have a great meal. Not too often do people ask for seconds.”
“I really enjoy what I do,” he said, acknowledging that meeting and relating to customers is what he enjoys most, and that staying in business in the face of continually rising costs is always a huge challenge.
And barbeque lovers countywide have responded to Phil’s philosophy of giving customers what they want and keeping it simple. They’ve turned out in droves daily to satisfy their craving for mesquite-grilled baby back and beef ribs, chicken and sandwiches.
Pace has also become involved in philanthropic causes. Phil’s BBQ has a tailgate fundraiser every summer at Petco Park, where all proceeds are donated to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of San Diego County, which pairs children facing adversity with professionally supported, one-to-one mentoring relationships with adults to improve their lives.
Like his restaurant, the charity tailgate event has taken on a life of its own, raising $72,000 this year by serving more than 3,000 guests. The annual $25 ticket fee includes the Phil’s tailgate experience and a Padres game ticket, with all ticket sales benefiting charity.
A dog lover, Pace also supports the San Diego Humane Society and Labrador Rescuers organizations.
Phil’s BBQ is also big into catering, owning 16 trucks. At Phil’s, catering is made to order.
A customer can come and pick it up, have it delivered, have it cooked right there at the venue and served by restaurant staff if they wish.
Sixteen years into barbecuing in San Diego, things continue to look good for Pace and Phil’s BBQ. Asked what it is about barbecue that keeps customers licking their fingers and coming back for more, Pace replied, “It’s down-home. American.”
Noting barbecue is “spelled many different ways,” and “cooked many different ways,” Pace said, “We just try to serve something that’s good. We’ll be in business as long as the customer still wants to eat.”
For more information on Phil’s BBQ, call (619) 226-6333, or visit www.philsbbq.net.