The owners of the new Grill Masters BBQ in Clovis still seem surprised to find themselves running a busy restaurant.
Jesse and Maribel Cortez opened the restaurant about a month ago, serving tri-tip sandwiches and other barbecue at Clovis and Gettysburg avenues, near Valley Rod & Gun.
"It's just so funny how everything fell into place," says Maribel Cortez.
A small catering job about a year ago got the ball rolling. Jesse Cortez made some food for an event at his wife's workplace, an oral surgeon's office in Fresno. He impressed people and they started calling him for orders.
And it was a good thing, because B&L Quality Meats where he had barbecued for more than six years moved to Visalia and a short stint at a sandpaper manufacturer ended in a layoff.
Barbecuing became Cortez's full-time gig. The couple took over the concession stand at Fig Garden Loop park's youth baseball, selling their sandwiches, along with candy and soda. The catering business was taking off.
One day Cortez was driving back from Pappy's Fine Foods -- the restaurant uses its seasonings -- when he saw someone tugging on the locked door of the former Dave's Smokin' BBQ and realized it had closed. He told his wife he wanted to open a restaurant there.
She thought it was just another one of her husband's crazy ideas. Only now they're here, serving tri-tip and ribs and cowboy-style chili beans. Cortez calls his food "Fresno-style barbecue."
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with nearby workers making for a busy lunch hour.
The tri-tip sandwich is the most popular item. He cooks the tri-tip in a smoker that burns almond wood from Bella Frutta, leaving behind a smoky flavor. The tri-tip is cut thin and stored in au jus before it's served on the bread.
For details, check out their Facebook page.
-- Robertito's Taco Shop opened its newest restaurant last week in north Fresno on Blackstone Avenue, just south of Spruce Avenue.
This restaurant is open 24/7. The sit-down part is open from 6 a.m. to 4 a.m., with a walk-up window and the drive-thru open the rest of the time.
The other Robertito's that's a stone's throw away -- on the north side of Spruce, in front of Home Depot -- is still open for now, though employees say that probably will change.
-- Remember last week's column when I told you about Freebirds World Burrito, the hippie burrito joint, coming to Fresno?
They're planning a Clovis location too, at Herndon and Fowler avenues. The company that owns Freebirds, Tavistock Restaurants, is buying seven Qdoba Mexican Grill restaurant franchises in the Central Valley, and converting them to Freebirds.
The two Fresno-area locations -- the one on West Shaw Avenue in Fresno and the Clovis location -- are scheduled to open in late September.
-- Home cooks and professional barbecuers who want to battle for the title of 2012 Tri-Tip king -- or queen -- of the San Joaquin are invited to register for Taste Fresno's upcoming Tri-Tip Cook-Off in September.
The Sept. 2 event benefits Community Food Bank. Contestants will compete for the title and cash prizes. Registration costs $85 for amateur barbecuers and $250 for professionals.
More details and registration is available online at tastefresno.com/tritip. The registration deadline is Aug 15.
-- Jack & Charlie's restaurant in Visalia is honoring famed chef Julia Child with a dinner on what would be her 100th birthday, Aug. 15.
The restaurant will serve food inspired by her landmark cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," including chilled summer tomato soup and lobster salad. The menu will be offered throughout the evening, with Child's show, "The French Chef" playing on the restaurant's TVs.
The meal costs $60 per person. Details: jackandcharlies.com. Reservations can be made by calling (559) 738-5752.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6431 or email@example.com or on Twitter @bethanyclough