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Big name barbeque brings new flavors to Claremont

Gus’s Barbeque, one of the oldest restaurants of its kind in Los Angeles, opened a second location in Claremont June 25, and one need only check out the oversized patio to see that it seems to have struck a chord.

“It’s been fun,” said Gus’s co-owner, John Bicos, 34, who owns the restaurants with his brother Chris Bicos. “We’ve had a great response from the community. We started off busy and things have been going great.”

Indeed, last Monday evening the place was bustling. I was lucky to grab a seat at the bar that juts out to the patio. I had a beer and bowl of chili. Both were wonderful.

The Bicos brothers purchased the original Gus’s in 2007. The 128-seat restaurant—with its distinctive sign featuring blinking neon pigs and chickens chasing each other—has been a South Pasadena landmark since 1946.

Raised in San Marino, the brothers both now live in Pasadena.

“I grew up going to Gus’s,” Mr. Bicos said. “It was the go-to place after soccer and Little League.”

In fact, the best man at his wedding was Gus’s great-grandson.

Gus’s was not the brothers’ first venture. Their father opened the Original Tops in East Pasadena in 1952. Once a burger joint, it now features an expanded menu including breakfast, chicken, pastrami, craft beer and even rib eye steak sandwiches. The brothers run Tops now.

“We were looking to expand [Gus’s] over the last couple of years,” said Mr. Bicos. “The best move was finding an area that resembled South Pasadena, and we just fell in love with Claremont. We started coming here more and more, walking the streets and looking at the people eating in the restaurants. It just gave us a familiar feel, something really reminded us of South Pas. It’s a tight-knit community with lots of families. Everything that made us successful in South Pasadena, Claremont seemed to have as well.”

Other lures were the dearth of barbeque in the City of Trees, and the roomy corner spot with 176 seats in a prime Village West location.

When designing the menu for Gus’s, the brothers visited all the holy lands of barbeque and returned to gift California with their findings.

“I think that’s kind of the best way to put it,” Mr. Bicos said with a laugh.

They had the enviable job of traveling around the country and sampling the various regions’ distinct barbeque styles. What they arrived at after tasting their way through Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, the Carolinas and St. Louis, was a hybrid.

The brisket is Texas style, smoked long over low heat with Pecan wood. Pulled pork comes two ways—a vinegar base that is more northern-inspired, and a mustard-style found in the Carolinas. The ribs are also offered with two flavors: a vinegar forward Memphis-style, and a spicier, sweeter flavor from Kansas City.

“We picked up everything we liked, and we tried to mimic those styles as closely as we could,” Mr. Bicos said.

Fifty percent of Gus’s seating is outside, which Mr. Bicos is thrilled about.

“It’s California, so people love sitting outside. And we’ve made it so it can be used year-round. It’s fully covered for rain, and it’s loaded with fans and heaters.”

The extensive remodel of the former Casablanca space included creating a centerpiece bar.

“It opens up to the outside, so you can sit inside or out,” Mr. Bicos said. Gus’s is open until 1 a.m. on the weekends, offering Claremonters a new spot for a late-night bite and libation.

Claremont, with its rigid design standards, can be a challenge for some potential new business owners. It’s a quirky town, and a lot of its charm is a direct result of this attention to detail.

“It’s funny, I have heard that a lot, but I feel like South Pasadena is similar,” Mr. Bicos said. “They’re such small communities with a lot of people who have lived here a long time and feel a kind of ownership in the community and the places that come here. So that wasn’t really a surprise. We were kind of excited about that. We’re both hoping that Gus’s will become just as much, or more, of their place as it is ours.”

Gus’s Barbeque is at 500 W. First St., Claremont. It opens every day at 11 a.m. and stays that way until 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. Sunday. You can get a look at their menu or get more info online at gussbbq.com, or by calling (909) 445-0931, or emailing info@gussbbq.com.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com