On this week’s episode of “What’s Eric Eating,” Charles Toomey and pitmaster Willow Villarreal join CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss J-Bar-M Barbecue. Recently opened in EaDo by the Toomey family, J-Bar-M serves a range of smoked meats prepared by Villarreal alongside sides and desserts made by his fiancee Jasmine Barela.
In the interview, Toomey credits Houston Chronicle barbecue columnist JC Reid with introducing his family to Villarreal and Barela. “We met Willow one day and pretty much hired him on the spot, just based on JC’s recommendation. It’s been magic ever since.”
Villarreal and Barela earned their reputations through pop-ups and a food truck. To build a team large enough to operate a restaurant, they’ve hired others who came up through the pop-up scene, including Alec Varnell of Big Daddy Karne Tex-Mex BBQ, Joseph Queller of JQ’s Tex-Mex BBQ, and Nick Orozco , formerly of Piper’s BBQ.
“I feel like after the truck closed there weren’t doors open for me,” Villareal says. “Guys who do pop-ups, they know the work it takes. If they want to put in the work here, I’m giving them a chance.”
Listen to the full interview to hear both men discuss their vision for how they’d like J-Bar-M to evolve during its first year as well as what Toomey’s grandfather, serial entrepreneur John Toomey, thinks about his latest venture. Pro tip: when John Toomey is in a good mood, he starts giving away banana pudding to customers.
Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Mary Clarkson discussed the news of the week. Their topics include Kate McLean’s return to fine dining staple Tony’s as executive chef and partner; Ben Berg opening a massive pop-up restaurant at the Rodeo; and Chinatown destination Bellaire Food Street’s plans to build a second building with 11 more restaurants.
In the restaurants of the week segment, the two hosts discuss their recent experiences at Ruggles Blackthe Upper Kirby restaurant known for its keto-friendly dishes, and Stella’s Wine Barthe new addition to Tilman Fertitta’s luxurious Post Oak hotel.