MATHIS – “I was physically sick,” Andrew “Butter” Soto said remembering his very first day of business. “I think it was just stress.”
So about at 5:30 a.m. Soto pulled up to Butter’s to find smoke everywhere and his barbecue pits cold. He had hired his friend Rob Rodriguez to show up early and light the pits every morning, not knowing he didn’t have any experience. At all.
So Soto saw Rob panicking, feverishly trying to start a fire.
“I immediately knew that he didn’t open up the vent and just needed to get some oxygen in there, he just didn’t know it,” Soto laughed. “It was almost like a cartoon, I opened the vent and the flames just came on.
“After that it got really quiet and really peaceful, and you could just hear the wood crackling.”
After that he knew everything would be all right.
Butter’s BBQ in Mathis just celebrated its two-year anniversary this past Sunday with a little shindig complete with a whole barbecued pig and some live music.
And, yes, Rodriguez caught on after a few days and still works there.
More than 30 family members, friends, fans and classmates stopped by Butter’s on Sunday to help Soto celebrate.
“This is insane,” Soto said during the celebration. “Last year we had about 10 or 12 people here,” he laughed.
A lot of things have happened since Soto opened his tiny little building on 104 South Highway 359, where it still sits, only now with two additions built on to it to try and accommodate all of his customers.
The first big surprise happened in December 2018 when then U.S. Senate candidate Robert “Beto” O’Rourke was campaigning across Texas and stopped by to grab some food. Beto had become sort of celebrity on Instagram and Twitter and said some kind words about Butter’s on the social media platforms.
The next big surprise was in February when Texas Monthly Barbecue Editor Daniel Vaughn stopped by to try some Butter’s BBQ, which he had heard about way up in Dallas.
“I asked him what had brought him down, and he told me directly he had already heard from three different people about Butter’s, so he based the trip around us, which is insane because he lives in Dallas,” Soto said shortly after their meeting.
That visit, and the one Vaughn made the next day to try Butter’s barbacoa, along with his social media posts, finally put the small barbecue joint on the map.
Then came a small article in Texas Monthly.
A few months after that he got a phone call, which he thought was a prank.
“You’re going to be in the next issue of Texas Monthly featured as a top 25 new barbecue restaurant in the state,” Soto recalled the person saying to him on the other line.
Just like his world famous list of “Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas” (the new list hits shelves in 2021), Vaughn had compiled a list of “The Top 25 New Barbecue Joints in Texas”, and Butter’s was on it.
Vaughn wrote in Texas Monthly, “Butter’s is so inexpensive that when I stopped in I urged Soto to raise his prices. I want him to stay in business so that I can keep coming back for the decadently fatty brisket and the beef and pork sausages wrapped in flour tortillas made by his mother. Monster pork spareribs coated in black pepper and tender turkey slices also impressed.”
One of Soto’s dreams is to make the coveted top 50 list, “... and now, it’s like we can actually do it. Just to be on the top 25 is nuts,” he said.
“We saw the results of that almost immediately as soon as the issue dropped. We still get people every single day that I’ve never met saying they heard about the article in Texas Monthly.
“We just keep making the food and keep selling it. Nothing guaranteed. He have a hot box full of food, and it’s nerve wracking. You pay for the food, you pay for the labor and you haven’t even sold a single slice of brisket yet.
“Just when you think it might be a slow day, here comes everybody.”
Soto said he and his team – made of family and friends – just attack everything head-on, especially when problems arise. He also said that they’re all on the same page when it comes to running a restaurant since none of them have done it before so they come up with educated guesses and put them together to come up with a solution.
Soto also mentioned a story when Rob called him at 4:30 a.m. to tell him they didn’t have any pepper. Pepper, Soto said, was the one ingredient that was in everything.
“You could hear him over the phone at 4:30 in the morning,” Soto laughed. “Shelves were flying, and finally he said he found some.
“Little pepper packets.
“And he must have opened 2,000 or 3,000 packets.”
So while Soto and his crew have worked hard on not just the food but the business as well, there’s one thing nobody can deny: Soto definitely has a knack for this.
“Just do the same thing you did yesterday – I preach that a lot,” Soto added.
“I think we’re taking it in stride, and we’ll just continue doing what we do.”