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Owner Of BBQ Joint In The Oil Patch Says He's Hanging On

By Mitch Borden

The Permian Basin has been feeling the impact of low oil prices as the coronavirus pandemic persists. Recently, prices have stabilized around $40, compared to last year when the average price of a barrel was in the upper 50s.

The hit energy companies have taken has trickled down to smaller businesses that have relied on workers from the oil patch.

Marfa Public Radio’s Mitch Borden spoke to Israel Campos of Pody's BBQ in Pecos to see how his business is doing.

Click the above audio player to listen to the full conversation with Israel Campos.

MB: Hi, Israel. Thanks for speaking with me today. How are you doing?

IC: We're doing good. Doing good. Business is kind of slow due to the bust in the oil field, but we're hanging in there.

MB: Fair enough, I mean, so your restaurant Pody's BBQ is based in Pecos. Would you just describe what kind of town Pecos is?

IC: Pecos is a small, sleepy town. It's a good town I grow up in.

MB: So you said it's sleepy. Has it been sleepy over the past few years with the oil boom going on in the Permian Basin?

IC: Oh, no, it was sleepy growing up, but not anymore. I'll tell you what, about two years ago in 2017, It really got moving around here jumping. A lot of the man camps, you know, popped out over town. So our population actually kind of like tripled. Went from like, four or 5,000 to about 15,000 - 20,000. Yeah, we started seeing a lot more people, you'd go to Walmart, you wouldn't recognize anybody in there.

MB: Israel, before we get too far, because I'm really interested in how the bust has affected your business, but before we get too far into that, you know for anyone listening who hasn't been to your restaurant would you describe the kind of food you guys make and the general vibe in your place?

IC: Yeah, it's a traditional barbecue joint. It used to be an old laundry mat. We serve the Texas Trinity which is brisket, sausage, and ribs. We do not do chicken, but everything else involving barbecue we do.

MB: Since he started in 2011 have oilfield workers made up a lot of your business?

IC: I'd say about 90% of the business that we were having was oil field. You know, we still get them. I mean, there are still oilfield folks around, but not as much. Our business has gone down 70%. We're at 30% [sales] of what we're doing a couple years ago. Yeah, so it's pretty crazy man. The bust is here.

MB: You said, business has gone down 70%, so pre-pandemic, pre-oil bust, what did a busy day look like for Pody's?

IC: So, we'd sell to 200 - 300 plates a day, man, it was, I had to hire additional people. During that peak time, I had to find everyone available that I could get in here to help me out.

MB: I heard lines out the door weren't uncommon.

IC: I'll tell you what, yeah, yeah, it was an everyday deal. We'd have about 30, 40, up to 50 people in line before we open. Yeah, it's crazy. Now you can barely find somebody parked out in the parking lot.

MB: So how are you guys making do right now? You just said you can't find anyone in the parking lot after seeing those lines for years, how are you doing right now Israel?

IC: We've adjusted. I've lowered my pay, I've lowered my wife's pay and some of the other employees pay. They understand as long as they can keep on paying the bills, they will man.

MB: Has it been hard to adapt to other, safety regulations being put on restaurants right now, as COVID has gone on?

IC: Yeah, it's a whole new way of doing business. I never thought I'd be doing curbside. It's a reality for us and we're really careful. We hadn't opened our dining room since March. And it's hurt us. People call in and say, "Hey, is your dining room open?" Like "No." [They respond,] "we're not gonna order from you then." Some people are like that. Some people want to sit down and enjoy their lunch, and I don't blame them, but same time I want to keep my family safe and I don't want to risk it.

MB: I know we kind of touched on this earlier but you said, [business has] gone way down right now, but what does a normal day for your restaurant look like right now, Israel?

IC: Yeah, we went from like I said having 100 sales to having maybe 30 - 35 sales a day.

MB: So it's like going from like a waterfall to a trickle.

IC: Oh, yeah a little trickle. As long as that little trickle keeps on, keeps on keeping on man. I told my wife, we don't need to make any money. As long as the employees are paid, our bills are paid — we'll be fine.

MB: What's been the biggest challenge for you?

IC: Not having people dine in. This is the friendly atmosphere here when I've had a lot of friends or people that come in and say "hey, it feels like home when I come to your restaurant. I can sit down and relax." People stay here for two or three hours after they eat and they just talk, they feel so comfortable. I mean, we missed that, our dining hall was filled with people, and we miss all our friends.

MB: How optimistic are you about the future?

IC: Well, you always have to see the light at the end of the tunnel, right? So, I'm optimistic that they'll find a vaccine for the COVID and a vaccine for the oilfield. We need it.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.