A down-home Texas cookout can be found deep in the heart of California.
by Susan Acker
photography by Rhiannon Mim
The aroma of hickory smoke barbecue wafts through the vents of my car as I pull into the Red Hill BBQ parking lot. Warren Price, the owner’s son, is busy barbecuing meat near the tiny building that holds the restaurant—almost the size of a large fruit stand. Plumes of smoke drift toward the sky as he cooks.
As I push through the door covered with flyers and handmade signs, I feel like I am entering another world—a small restaurant somewhere in Texas. A steer head mounted on one wall is decorated with a Dallas Cowboys baseball cap. It almost looks like it is guarding the restaurant.
In the corner behind the cash register, a photo of Tom Selleck looks out at the restaurant from a picture frame. The red tile floor is rustic and worn. An old black typewriter and vintage metal lunch boxes are displayed on a wall. A table set up along the north wall, just under the menu board, is filled with flyers. Picture frames hang on the south wall in an alcove just past the entrance.
The smell of baked beans and pulled pork smothered in sweet barbecue sauce fills the air. Diane Price-Cooper waves from the counter. “I’ll be right there,” she says with a smile so warm I feel as though I already know her. As she weaves her way around the counter, she says we should talk inside, and she sits down at the table covered with a red-checkered tablecloth, moving her chair in as though we are old friends sitting to enjoy a good meal together. Price-Cooper, a former model-turned-housewife, is now known primarily as “the barbecue lady.”
“The best part of my business is the customers,” she says. Originally from Louisiana, Price-Cooper moved to California with her late husband more than 20 years ago. After moving across the country, Price-Cooper says she felt lonely and wanted to meet people. “I loved to entertain,” Price-Cooper says. She says she cooked for everyone who came to her house. Her husband, Wendell Price, told her she was a great cook and encouraged her to open her first restaurant: the Black Tie Barbecue, in Ontario. After many years of success, Price-Cooper opened Red Hill BBQ with her husband. Red Hill combines her Louisiana cooking style and his Texas barbecue know-how successfully, serving the community of Upland for nearly 15 years.
She and her husband worked side-by-side with one of her sons until her husband passed away four years ago. After he passed away, Price-Cooper says her family really “stepped up to the plate.” Her business continued to stay a family operated restaurant. Her cousins moved to California from Texas, and her sister came to help her too. Her cousin Elton Lacour puts it simply: “I came four years ago just to help the family.” Lacour says the restaurant has an old feel that reminds customers of their pasts. He says Price is energetic and a great boss who really cares for her customers.
When Price-Cooper mentions her children Jonathan, Bre’Elle and Warren, her extended family or her customers, her face lights up, and it is evident that she speaks from the heart. When her husband became ill, she was grateful to her family members for their support, but also grateful for the support of her customers.
After her husband was diagnosed with cancer, Price-Cooper was unable to attend an event she was catering and sent her son in her place. The customer who had set up the event asked Warren Price why his mother was not there, and when he told her that his father had been diagnosed with cancer, she helped the Price family get in touch with surgeons at City of Hope in Duarte. “I thank God for that lady who referred me to those surgeons,” Price-Cooper says.
Warren Price, who grew up working at the restaurant, says he loves what he does. “It’s pretty much imbedded in me,” he says. “It’s good working with family. You can trust everybody.”
Glen Holmes, who is not part of the family, but works at Red Hill doing a little bit of everything, says he loves working for Price-Cooper. “She’s a very loving, giving person. She’s a good person to be around. They treat me like one of them.”
Price-Cooper, who says she is from the “old school,” tries to keep the atmosphere and food authentic. On the counter next to the fountain soda machine is an orange plastic cooler with a hand-written sign that reads, “Southern lemon iced tea.” The tea is sweet with just the right touch of lemon, a nice change from the usual sodas found at restaurants. Along the wall above the counter are signs for dishes like hush puppies and black-eyed peas. There is even a line on the menu that gives the price for a whole smoked pig that, according to Price, is one of the more popular menu choices for weddings, parties and graduation celebrations.
Red Hill BBQ also offers a selection of meals for just $3.99. And all of the meat is smoked using wood, not charcoal. Though the food is spectacular, Price-Cooper humbly says it is not her cooking that keeps her customers coming, but rather the customer service offered at her restaurant. She says the best compliment she can receive is hearing someone say “mmmmmmm” when they eat her food. “I have some really faithful customers,” she says.
Although the economy has affected business, things are still looking up for Diane and her family. She says that customers still come faithfully on weekends even if they are not able to afford to stop by during the week.
“It’s keeping my doors open,” she says.
And her customers are not only faithful visitors, but they are faithful when it comes to spreading the word. “I can’t pay for advertising like that,” she says.
“Whether it be the ambiance or the end product, nothing else in the area compares to it,” Rod Rexrode, a customer of 10 years says. Rexrode is just one among many faithful customers who come to Red Hill for the great food, but also for the friendly service and down home, welcoming Southern feel.