Flying High With Richard's Lunchbox
Jun 25, 2015 09:55AM
By Brandi Barnett
A Family, an Airplane & a Mouthwatering BBQJuly 2015
Story and photos by Jen May Pastores
Richard’s Lunchbox has the kind of magic that cooks have when they can remind you of life’s simplest pleasure: mouthwatering, down-to-earth food will never judge you. “It’s my goal to keep in mind my customers. They want quality to be the same and good every time. They love when I can make something special,” says owner Richard Aguilar, owner of a barbecue restaurant in Tulare that takes customers’ orders from inside a small aircraft.
The plane – once used for military navigation training – provides a unique dining environment for guests. “The airplane has never been a focal point for me, though,” Aguilar says. True to his words, his spin on traditional barbecue with a little spice mixed with California cuisine takes you beyond the novelty of the restaurant’s ambiance through the smell of peppered beef patties, sizzling bacon and slow-smoked pork cooking on the outdoor grill over burning wood.
”We don’t sacrifice when it comes to buying ingredients. We do a fresh grind every day with my own seasoning that’s whipped in there. It’s how you would barbecue at home, so it takes time,” says Aguilar. The kitchen crew makes everything it can from scratch, including potato salad, coleslaw and chili beans. A local meat locker provides all the restaurant’s prime meat. “I can’t bring myself to give processed meat... and I would be baking my own bread if I had the equipment,” Aguilar says.
Before opening at this location in April 2013, Richard’s Lunchbox was tucked in an alley two blocks away, where he started the business in 2011. “I wanted to open a small restaurant, and I thought I might as well do it now and give it a shot,” says Aguilar. “Downtown Tulare is extremely hard to break into. If I could succeed in the first spot where no one can find me in an alley, then I’m extremely fortunate.” His current remodeling project includes additional seating around the airplane and in the nearby hanger.
Growing up locally in Ivanhoe, Aguilar learned how to cook with his grandfather who enjoyed making Southern food, giving him the great fortune to experience a variety of good eats. His current favorite dish is jambalaya because of its complexity, which he hopes to one day offer as a special at Richard’s Lunchbox. “I’m always on the hunt, always searching where to eat,” says Aguilar. “I want something that somebody actually made.”
Aguilar’s passion for food and flavor extends to how he cares about and looks out for his staff, naturally affecting how the team treats each other and ultimately, how they respect their customers. “I don’t really consider myself a boss. I hate that word, really. I have an idea that will allow all of us to have a solid job. We’re as close to a family as it can be. That’s important, to be happy in the workplace,” says Aguilar. His wife, Shawna, is a partner in the business’ values and creative endeavors. “My wife takes care of customer service, primarily. She’s really talented, has a free spirit and comes up with combinations of food. Together we make really good food. We’re both driven to work.”
Named after his wife, the “Shawna style” is the customer’s choice of barbecue meat with added bacon, traditional garlic barbecue sauce, fresh avocado and red onions, and cheddar cheese. Other specialties are rib plates, barbecue meat sandwiches, housemade sides, and stacked gourmet burgers like the Randy Burger: a half-pound beef patty and hot link topped with cheddar, pepper jack and provolone cheese, and Jack mustard.
Richard and Shawna have three children who love to help out with the family business. Karly, 9, enjoys taking orders from customers, Michael, 8, likes to clean tables, and Julia, 4, is their youngest mascot. Together, with their second family helping to run the restaurant, Richard’s Lunchbox is a welcoming oasis of bold tastes that’s akin to soaring high in the clouds. And you don’t even need a ticket to board this plane.
Richard’s Lunchbox • 240 N. L. St., Tulare
Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:30am to 8pm;
Closed Sunday and Monday
Find them on Facebook and Instagram