By Joanna Burton

Stretching from the Santa Lucia Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Maria Valley is an unassuming vacation destination sought out by wine enthusiasts looking to sip up what the Central Coast has to offer. While the region is known for producing what is arguably the best wines in the country, it is equally known for its one-of-a-kind style of barbeque created by local ranchers and their prized cattle.

Inspired by the traditions of these ranchers and vaqueros, along with a desire to showcase the flavors of the region that summon a personal nostalgia of family gatherings, Richard Cowell decided to open Rancho Nipomo Deli and BBQ in 2006. “We wanted a place where someone could get away for an hour or so, maybe meet up with an old friend, or make a new one,” says Richard, who is known to invite customers to come and enjoy the delicious menu and warm hospitality of his restaurant.


While the stylings of barbeque coming out of Santa Maria is a debatable subject, one detail that always holds true is that it’s not Santa Maria barbeque unless you use Red Oak wood. Indigenous to the area, California Red Oak is what truly makes the region’s barbeque unique, and furthermore, why the folks at Rancho Nipomo only use this specific wood to smoke their quality meats. Including their supply of Santa Maria’s specialty cut of choice, the tri-tip.

Come rain or shine, Rancho Nipomo serves its hungry customers barbeque and traditional slow smoked items (that would rival any smokehouse) including menu classics such as their extremely popular “BBQ Pulled-Pork Sandwich.” Made from IPB® quality bone-in pork shoulder butt that’s slowly smoked for 12 hours, then hand pulled, smothered in house-made barbeque sauce, cool & crunchy coleslaw, all generously piled on telera bread. Also on the menu is “ “The” Amazin’ Bacon Sandwich”. This house cured and smoked Snake River Farms® pork belly is sliced thick & piled high, then topped with lettuce & tomato – a true bacon lover’s dream.

Then, of course, there’s the tri-tip! Tender St.Helens® tri-tip can be found repeatedly in the menu options – from the “Smoked Tri-Tip Burrito,” and “Tri-Tip Dip” to the “Santa Maria Fries” that serves as a meal in and of itself. Using Lamb Weston® microbrew fries, these loaded spuds come with smoked tri-tip, pinto beans, and three different types of cheeses, sour cream, fresh pico de gallo and a guarantee to satisfy even the strongest of tri-tip cravings!


Along with its servings of big platter barbeque classics and traditional sides, Rancho also offers an array of popular Americana and Cal-Mex inspired items including; Chile Verde, “Street Style” tacos, flautas, enchiladas, tortas, burgers, sandwiches, and all-beef hot dogs.

It is not uncommon to see a line out of the door at Rancho Nipomo with hungry guests patiently waiting their turn to order from the counter. Richard, encouraged by the growing crowds, saw the need for more dining space and expanded the operation’s square footage and opened up the Gold Rush Cantina. Now, with the cantina in place, Rancho grew its foodservice business to not only accommodate for the extra guests, but to increase ticket sales by adding in a bar that offers twenty-eight beers on tap, including many California craft brews, for customers to enjoy while they watch hosted musical acts performing on the Gold Rush Stage in a family-friendly environment.


Keeping up with his growing operation, Richard relies on Jordano’s Foodservice, and Account Executive, Alex Torres, to keep Rancho Nipomo well stocked. Richard credits partnering with Jordano’s as a key factor in their success. “Our sales rep, Alex, and Mike Guaspari (Regional Manager) are my ‘go to’ guys whenever I have a question, whether it is about French fries or a kitchen sink,” says Richard. Jordano’s is Rancho’s primary supplier and as Richard puts it, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Naturally, when Richard decided on the expansion of the cantina, Alex was there every step of the way. “It’s been fun supporting their vision of opening the cantina side of the business,” says Alex,” and watching their overall growth.”


Aside from being a successful foodservice business owner, Richard is a family man and is well-aware that the family environment his restaurant provides is just as important as the food it serves. Richard’s son, R.C., manages the restaurant’s daily operations, while valued chef, Mayra Figueroa, has been keeping their kitchen true to the original recipes for over a dozen years.

Richard strives to create a casual atmosphere where multi-generations can come and enjoy a good meal. “To me the Rancho Nipomo owners, and their crew are family,” says Alex Torres,” We have been working together for over eight years, and in that time we’ve only become closer.”

Richard credits Rancho’s success to the valuable relationships they have with their customers, employees and distributors. “Like Jordano’s we are business built on family, above all else,” Richard said. Jordano’s knows the importance of fostering good relationships and helping them grow and succeed in their businesses.

Next time you find yourself at the junction of HWY 166 East and the 101, make it a point to stop in and savor the flavor of the central coast at Rancho Nipomo BBQ. Richard invites you to come in and enjoy their delicious “low and slow” cooked barbeque or traditional Mexican fare. And don’t forget to sign the guest book while you’re there because, after all, you are now part of the Rancho Nipomo Family.

For more information about Rancho Nipomo BBQ and Gold Rush Cantina, visit, or find them on Facebook.