Over the course of the last year, Logan Sandoval’s pop-up barbeque restaurant, originally started in his Simi Valley garage, has expanded rapidly. Now Zef BBQ, once exclusively available through online pre-orders, is taking over local kitchens to keep up with demand for its specialty meals.
When the pandemic struck, the former executive sous chef was forced to leave the previously steady hotel restaurant industry and find a new way to support his family. Using fine dining skills honed from his career developing restaurants with Hyatt Hotels Corp., Sandoval developed the barbeque menu from his garage and sold by-the-pound pre-orders through social media. As business surged, it became clear that Zef couldn’t maintain its momentum from a driveway and Sandoval began looking for new places to set up the pop-up BBQ operation.
In the last month, Zef partnered with local restaurants to serve its signature fresh brisket, slow-smoked ribs and other gourmet creations out of eateries like Rosie’s BBQ and Grillery in Northridge, Pop’s Pizza Truck based in Santa Clarita and Employees Only bar in West Hollywood.
The move to a ghost kitchen concept, where a restaurant like Zef operates out of the kitchen of another establishment, was due largely to a sudden boom in popularity for Sandoval’s products. In January, an article in Eater featured the pop-up, calling the operation “California’s best new restaurant,” increasing business overnight.
“We had been capping at around 25 to 30 (pre)orders. And then overnight, we were doing like 125 and having to pull it because we had too many people, you know, trying to get the barbecue,” Sandoval said.
The Easter pre-order menu, requiring $100 minimum orders of dishes like oak-smoked turkey breast and pit-smoked pastrami, sold out in two minutes and 48 seconds. “Our average sell time right now is like, a minute 30 (seconds) to two minutes. There have been weeks that have been like 35 seconds.”But the increased popularity also came with more attention from Ventura County officials, who Sandoval said began contacting him about the business’s lack of adequate health and operation permits. To avoid running up against the regulations, Sandoval and his wife Anna Lindsey, who helps run the day-to-day operations, reached out to locations like Rosie’s through Instagram to arrange daylong takeovers to use their fully permitted kitchens instead of the garage.
“It was a good time and Rosie’s got some good revenue from a beer standpoint. And so everyone was kind of happy,” Sandoval said. Rosie’s served its own customers as well as those there to eat Zef BBQ, keeping a portion of the profit as well as all drink sales. While Zef’s sales weren’t quite as high as the pre-order menus of previous weeks, Sandoval said he can see a ghost kitchen model working for now — but he’ll likely need to find something more permanent. Almost one year to the day since initially opening in his driveway, the chef has begun looking for a small brick-and-mortar location to serve as a permanent ghost kitchen.
“If you were to ask me, you know, six months ago, if we ever thought about brick and mortar, I would tell you that you’re crazy,” Sandoval said. “But now that’s definitely plausible. It would just have to be the right place at the right time.”