Longtime barbecue cook turns businessman

By: 

Lifestyle Reporter

AJ’s Ranch Road Grill is cooking up a name for itself with lunchtime and late-night favorites like Texas Tots and the Texas Philly, a southern take on the classic cheesesteak.

Andrew Napoles, owner and Texas State alumnus, said the idea of opening a restaurant came to him after graduation when he was struggling to find work.

“There wasn’t a lot of options in this area, and I had a hard time looking for a job,” Napoles said. “I always joked that I was going to open up a restaurant.”

The eatery, which is located a five-minute walk from campus, serves traditional barbeque staples like brisket, ribs and pulled pork as well as Tex-Mex favorites like fajitas, tacos and quesadillas.

Mark Chavez, animal science sophomore, said he frequents the restaurant.

“I like the chopped brisket sandwich,” Chavez said. “It’s soft, and it has a smoky flavor.”

Trace McNeil, business management freshman, first tried the restaurant after hearing great reviews.

“I had gone to a friend’s house and then decided I wanted to get some food, and my friend said AJ’s is the place to go,” McNeil said. “The brisket was pretty good, and I really liked the sweet tea. It was perfectly sweet.”

AJ’s is open from 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. The restaurant does not have a bar, but customers are welcome to bring their own alcoholic beverages, Napoles said.

Mark Gabriel DeLeon, AJ’s manager and business junior, said the restaurant’s location and the quality of the food make it one of a kind.

“We are extremely close to campus, and our prices are fair,” De Leon said. “It’s not a sit-down restaurant, but you get the quality of a sit-down restaurant.”

DeLeon said the restaurant has a seating capacity of about 20 people. As a result, AJ’s managers work hard to keep the steady flow of customers happy by serving food quickly.

De Leon said nights are the busiest time, with a line that usually goes out the door.     

Napoles was inspired to serve barbeque because of experiences from his childhood.

He often barbequed with his father when he was younger, and the two were even asked to cater events.

“I wanted to do barbeque because the other places I didn’t think were that great,” Napoles said. “I knew it was something that would be good.”

The first year of business was the most challenging, Napoles said.

“Just to get it up to code, there was a lot of plans and money,” Napoles said. “There were definitely times where I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ But I’d rather do things myself than have someone else do it.”

Napoles has big ideas for the future. He hopes to expand the patio seating area and has plans to open a second location.