Joe and Minnie Ransom’s BBQ and catering business began as many family food enterprises do. “Papa Joe” used to BBQ for the family (and many, many friends) and eventually ended up getting wrangled into doing it at work for special events or employee appreciation days. During pre-retirement time, it was just a passionate hobby.
He experimented with various sauce formulations, trying a smidgen of this, a pinch of that. Even for die-hard ‘cue fans, there’s only so much sauce one can sop solo so anyone within Papa Joe’s smoke-circle was privy to the fruits of this research. Friends and co-workers would tell him that he should market that sauce. “They spoiled him there!” Minnie says about Joe’s previous work life that didn’t revolve around a smoker. “He was given a new company truck to do his work with his name, Papa Joe, painted on the side. He drove it until he retired and when the truck was down he was down. He didn’t want to drive any other truck.”
Minnie runs the behind-the-scenes show. In the beginning, she learned plenty about what it takes to get an artisan food business up and running. Multiple speed bumps popped-up…and popped-up again. Three times to be exact. Minnie did the background work of filing for a trademark, remembering the rigmarole; “I was very reluctant the first go-round because Joe wanted his name on it and even though I did a search and didn’t see it taken, I filed for ‘Papa Joe’. Sure enough it was denied because of a restaurant down south.” She filed again with another incarnation of Joe’s preferred name, Papa J, and actually received the certificate. Papa John’s Pizza caught wind of it and it was back to the drawing board yet again.” Of course, money is not returned or applied towards the next application! I filed again for ‘PJRs’ which stands for Papa Joe Ransom”. This one was accepted.
When it came to the sauce formulation, figuring out the right proportion of ingredients was also tasked to Minnie. “I needed to be able to turn it over to a processor when I found one, had to have it tested, had to design the labels and find a place to process it all. It was all by trial and error,” Minnie recalls, maybe not too fondly. During this time, she was working full time as well as working on her Ed. D. (which she recently completed) along with the usual responsibilities of running a house and home.
For Joe’s part, he was focused on his craft so he entered his first barbecue contest and came out on-top, actually taking out a five-time champ. He began beating the pavement trying to get his product into local markets. He started selling it to small meat stores and received a great response. Next-up was was shelf space at Dale’s Hardware in Fremont, CA which served as a big boost to their morale since it was a larger store with more sales-volume. Minnie continued to contact stores, giving out samples to try and build up interest in giving PJR’s a try. PJR’s finally piqued the interest of Safeway Corporation. It took two years but it was finally placed into the Union City and Tracy stores which opened a path for SaveMart to clear some space in the competitive barbecue sauce line-up for a bit of the Ransom’s balanced blend.
When Joe retired, they moved to Tracy and he was able to be more involved in the sauce and business of BBQ and PJR’s Catering. Papa Joe’s style of cooking features grub that will definitely stick to your ribs. Of course there’s the smokey, saucy barbecue, but tables loaded with gumbo, fried chicken, baked beans and country-style veggies will groan under the weight of the piled-high platters. Joe and Minnie still do their ‘cue reconnaissance. Whenever there is a BBQ restaurant opening or a festival happening, they are there doing their due diligence. As is typical with those lauded souls possessing dedication and devotion to their work, Joe has to taste to see if his is better.
According to those who’ve licked many a PJR’s rib bone clean, there’s no question.
Tracy lives in a rather large nutshell. Former gator wrestler come chef and once-in-a-while somm, her greatest feat by far is raising a kid who teethed on blood sausage and Picholines. She longs to steal away to Cuba, but in the meantime gets by on making her own mojo and threatening bodily harm to anyone who serves a Daiquiri topped with whipped cream. If you hear what sounds like a kitchen full of people arguing over who gets the chicken oyster, it's probably just Tracy.