At the end of 2019, as Coop’s West Texas BBQ was heading into its 10th year of operation, owner Bradrick Cooper says business was unusually slow. Over the last decade, the Lemon Grove eatery had become a destination on the barbecue circuit, drawing fans from all over Southern California to its smoked meat. But in the beginning of 2020, Cooper made the decision to shorten Coop’s service to lunchtime. The restaurant would focus on the hours when businesses was at its busiest and it would give his daughter Tara, who manages the restaurant, as well as the other ladies on staff more time with their families.
A former nurse, Cooper says he began to feel a growing dread as he started to read about the pandemic, and a collective concern was reflected in a decline in diners; Coop’s sales plummeted by 60 percent right before San Diego’s March 2020 shutdown.
At first, Cooper considered temporarily shutting down the restaurant, but says he had a sneaking feeling that if he closed up shop completely, Coop’s might never reopen. And so he and his daughter opened for business not-quite-as-usual that following Tuesday and ended up having their biggest day since Christmas.
Cooper was eventually able to bring back his other employees and says that sales have been pretty steady since. Sharing that he’s “blessed to stay afloat” while other restaurants have closed forever, he attributes some of his good fortune to the fact that barbecue holds up quite well as a takeout item. On top of takeout, Cooper is also offering outdoor dining at Da Chicken Coop, his fried chicken shop across the parking lot from Coop’s.
In addition to spending a lot of time with his grandson, Cooper has spent the pandemic welding together smokers for customers and planning what’s next for his businesses. The barbecue master enjoys getting creative with Tex-Mex dishes, like his award-winning pulled pork tamale, and says he may start selling a take on birria made with his brisket and pulled pork at Da Chicken Coop.
As for Coop’s BBQ, it’s heading towards a major milestone. By 2022, Cooper hopes to be able to franchise the business. Inundated with offers to expand, he says he’s planning to streamline Coop’s menu in order to be able to train franchisees in the skills of proper barbecue to ensure that they’ll be able to put out consistently good product under his name; after all, he says, “all it takes is one bad plate.”