A couple of months ago, Texas Standard spoke with Blake Barrow, head of the Rescue Mission of El Paso, especially as the nation was looking at a change to immigration laws of late. While the conversation centered around what was thought to be a looming influx of migrants, Barrow also revealed something unexpected.
He said he was already tired, worn out from schlepping some food to a particular warehouse. But the food wasn’t to feed the homeless. Instead, the homeless were feeding others.
He was talking about Hallelujah! BBQ, which is part of the Rescue Mission of El Paso.
Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor for Texas Monthly, had already been looking into the story and joined the Standard to discuss. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: How did you hear about Hallelujah! BBQ?
Daniel Vaughn: Well, I heard about it from the same guy you did, Blake Barrow, who runs the mission there. And I actually met up with him at a barbecue event several years ago.
He told me that they had the plan to open up this place. At the time I talked to them then, they were just doing some catering operations, but they’ve got a full-on restaurant now and they’re looking to even add on like a bakery and a coffee shop. So they are well on their way.
Tell us how this restaurant operates and the big idea behind Hallelujah! BBQ.
Yeah, well, they have several residents who are housed at the mission who are in recovery. And part of that recovery is through what they call vocational rehabilitation, which is basically to sort of reteach them how to reenter the world after, you know, being addicted to drugs or alcohol for so long.
And so for a while they had done furniture making, but TxDOT decided that that property was more useful for highways. So they had to find a new property and a new mission, and that was a barbecue joint. And so they found this new building, rehabbed the building and opened Hallelujah! BBQ in it earlier this year.
What kind of condition was that old barbecue joint? Did they buy it and it’s a sort of, you know, turnkey or did they have to do some renovation work?
No, no. It was a building that was in some pretty poor condition. It’s over a century old and it had holes in the roof and rotting flooring. So it had been the clubhouse for railroad workers on the El Paso Electric Railway way back in the day. But it sat completely empty for four decades, really.
You know, when I was talking with Blake Barrow, as you did, he told me that the first month out of the gate, they were making money. I mean, it sounds like this is a hit.
Yeah. I mean, it certainly had plenty of diners when I was in there. They’ve got a really heavy to-go business as well.
But the food’s just really good. You know, that’s really what it comes down to. I mean, the mission is pure, of course. And you know, what they’re doing for the homeless population there in El Paso is great. But really, sometimes for me or often for me, it comes down to the food. And I was pleasantly surprised that they put just as much effort into making the food great as they do in making the whole mission behind the place great.
Just want to be clear about this: Hallelujah! BBQ is not a barbecue spot for people who are experiencing homelessness. That’s not what this is at all. This is a public barbecue joint. This is open to the public. And people are apparently enjoying this big time.
I think when people visited and when I visited, you don’t even realize that you’re on the property of the rescue mission. But every employee in there is either a graduate from the rehabilitation program there or they’re in the rehabilitation program. There are table tents on every table telling you a short history, short biography about the person who’s waiting on you, you know, where they are in their journey toward sobriety. And, you know, everybody in that restaurant is at the mission.
This seems perfect for a Texas rescue mission, doesn’t it? I mean, you know, the theme is perfect. The location sounds fantastic. I wonder why this hasn’t been done more often.
Yeah, I mean, it’s a good question, especially when you think about all the variety of jobs you can work in a restaurant and everybody who is involved in working at the restaurant works every one of those jobs before they graduate from the program. So they’ll have some history and some knowledge on how to wait tables, on how to cook, on how to manage the place.
So it really is a well-rounded program.