It is hard enough to start a business and build it, much less do it in a small town like Moriarty. Add to that choosing to start something that is historically most likely to fail—a restaurant and a brew pub—and the owners of Shorty’s Barbecue and Sierra Blanca Brewery, both of which recently celebrated 20 years in business, have really bucked the odds.
Both started small and steadily grew. The owners, Santos (Shorty) and Leanne Tapia (who own and operate Shorty’s Barbecue), and Rich and Suzanne Weber (owners of Sierra Blanca Brewery) built their establishments with patience, a steady eye toward the future, and solid business practices.
There are plenty of proprietors who started with similar goals and visions, maybe even with just as much passion, who nonetheless ultimately failed. Somehow, the Tapias and Webers found the formula to survive and thrive in a small town, and they managed to grow their businesses during tough financial times as well.
So what is their secret? Both couples agree that Moriarty’s location on Interstate 40 has helped. They each get regular business from that traffic. That said, neither thinks their location is the primary reason for their success; rather, they attribute that to the loyalty of their East Mountain community customers.
Leanne Tapia grew up in the restaurant business. Her father, Mario, started Lucky’s Pizza on Central Avenue in Albuquerque in the early 1960s. A few years later he moved the business to Cedar Crest, and changed the name to Mario’s Pizza. When one of his sons wanted to go into the restaurant business, Mario helped him establish Steer Inn Barbecue in Moriarty. Leanne and Shorty, high school sweethearts who married in 1991, took over the business in 1997 and changed the name to Shorty’s Barbecue. Since then, the restaurant has been a regular dining destination for East Mountain residents and travelers along I-40 lucky enough to have found it.
The menu includes a lot of what one would expect (ribs, pulled pork, beef, chicken, and hot links), but also some unexpected items that are rarely found in other barbecue restaurants. True to Leanne’s roots, Shorty’s also offers high quality pizza and traditional Italian pasta dishes.
The Tapias are proud of all their menu items, but Leanne says that their signature dish remains their apple-wood-broasted chicken. “We decided on chicken almost right away,” she says. “We thought it would work because, at that time, there wasn’t a KFC in Moriarty. We were so established with our signature brand of chicken, that by the time a KFC finally opened in town we didn’t notice any change in the demand for ours.”
Of course the business has not been without its challenges. When the Tapias took over, there were 20 other restaurants to choose from in Moriarty. “Even with highway traffic, that’s a lot of restaurants for a town the size of Moriarty,” Leanne continues. “We always just believed in ourselves and believed that quality, consistency, and customer service would lead to success.”
They quickly learned that it was important for at least one of them to always be present at the restaurant. More often than not, they’re both there. “We try to get to know everyone who comes in,” Leanne says. “Now we know most of our regulars so well, that we know what they like to order. A lot of the time we start cooking their order the minute they walk in the door.”
Leanne says supporting the community has always been important to them. “They support us, so it’s our responsibility to support them.” One way they do that is by hiring local teenagers as often as they can. “We want to give them an opportunity to learn a strong work ethic and to make some money. We’re the first real job for most of the kids we hire. A lot of them stay with us until they graduate, then come back in the summer during their break from college. We’ve helped raise a lot of kids in the community and it’s always so special to see them as adults when they stop in to see us.”
With all that attention to detail, and dedication to customers and community, Leanne says the real secret to their success lies in a simple decision they made when they started their own family: “When we started having children, we decided we would run the business and not let the business run us.”
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