BLACKFOOT — Another restaurant has stepped into an iconic location among Blackfoot eateries.
The Branding Iron had a soft opening last Thursday at 465 NW Main St., the location that was home to the landmark Stan’s Restaurant and Lounge for 60-some years, followed by Stingers Bar and Grill for several years.
The Branding Iron offers Old West style barbecue off the grill. Owners Frank Zepeda and his wife Julie have been doing event catering in the area for a while now, so this is a big expansion step for them.
“It’s been busy,” Zepeda said on Friday.
So far, the Branding Iron has been offering breakfast and lunch from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. with plans to start offering dinner from 6-8 p.m. Oct. 25, though they will be closed for breakfast and lunch that day.
The business is still hiring, Zepeda said. They have four servers and three cooks now.
He said they can use the entire building now and that they’re already getting requests for banquets with extra seating in the old bar areas. They will serve beer and wine, and they will open up the stage area once or twice a week with entertainment ranging from live music to cowboy poetry competitions and live melodrama from local schools.
There’s also a plan to make it a place for youth to go for entertainment with mixing soda drinks, gaming, and socializing.
“The food is now southern style barbecue, it’s Old West style,” Zepeda said.
Zepeda was born and raised in Santa Maria, Calif., which has a method of barbecuing that dates back to the 1800s, considered a mainstay of that state’s culinary heritage, dating back to ranchers working cattle drives and cooking on the trail.
“It has a huge history, it’s a special technique,” Zepeda said. “We use oak wood, there are no special rubs, just using carlic, pepper and salt on an open pit.”
Zepeda’s 17-year-old son Andrew started learning the technique himself when he was five or six years old and has already brought a lot to the Branding Iron himself, his father said.
“We’re grillers, not smokers,” Zepeda said. “Everybody has their own little niche. This is ours.”
Zepeda started young in the barbecuing world himself with his father, Frank, with the son starting to get the hang of it when he was 12 years old.
“When you live in that area of California, it’s a way of life,” he said. “It’s natural there. I’d just be around the pit and watch my father do it.”
When he was in high school around age 17, he build his own trailer-mounted pit. He worked as a chef in Montana for a couple of years. Aside from cooking, he’s worked in the oil fields driving truck, he got a job with Wada Farms as a welder/fabricator five years ago, and while he was there he got a hankering for barbecue again. He started putting together a trailer-mounted pit in 2015 and finished it three months later.
From there, it was on to catering at events. His first barbecue in Idaho was at Celebrate Blackfoot in 2016. The Branding Iron has also been found at the Madison County Fair, and at events in Pocatello, American Falls, and Montpelier.
He’s also worked at Cannon Builders driving truck, and Julie has worked at Basic American Foods in Blackfoot. He says he’s been grateful for getting time off to do events with Branding Iron.
The family went through a near-tragedy when they worked Treaty Days in Fort Hall July 3, when their son Brandon was accidentally burned over 45 percent of his body while rough-housing with a brother outside the trailer in an area.
Brandon had attempted to jump over a propane tank that was connected to a deep fryer outside the trailer when he tripped over the hose connecting the two, which caused the fryer to topple over on top of him.
Zepeda said Brandon has been doing well, undergoing treatment in Salt Lake City, but it’s been a long haul for the family and there’s still a long way to go in the treatment and rehab process.
“Everybody has really stepped up to continue the Branding Iron,” Zepeda said, fighting back tears as he thought of the experience. “The Branding Iron has paid for itself. It’s definitely a blessing.”
Zepeda said he’s got some big shoes to fill in the location he’s at, where he’s leasing on a two-year contract with an option to buy. He’s hoping to buy the building outright next year, with a lot more events coming in the next year.
He realizes there will be a lot to learn going from a catering trailer to a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
“This will be a big awakening to things,” Zepeda said. “But I think we can do it.”
Tri-tip is the big specialty at the Branding Iron, featured in signature dishes for breakfast and lunch. Other main dishes will include grilled salmon, jumbo prawns, and shrimp scampi.
The Branding Iron can be reached at (208) 680-9454.