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Live in Johnson City: Barberitos Southwestern Grille & Cantina

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

If you're new here, considering moving, or have lived in Johnson City your whole life, check out this series: Live in Johnson City, a guide to Johnson City.

Johnson City is a beloved city surrounded by The Blue Ridge mountains. The views, coupled with the people and cuisine, make it one of the best places to live. Many restaurants have helped to form the culture of Johnson City. One of these staple restaurants is Barberitos. Barberitos as a chain has been around for over 20 years and opened its first location in Johnson City in 2005. In the last 16 years, they have expanded to three locations, two in Johnson City and their newest location, in Bristol.

Before Barberitos opened in Johnson City, the owners, Andy and Brian, spent their days working at Chick-fil-a. Andy and Brian managed the store along with a woman named Sonya Rice. Once they got word that the store would be closing, Andy asked Ms. Sonya if she would be willing to take a chance on Brian and his new dream. She replied, I was always a thank you very much gal anyway, and agreed to help. So they all sat down to dream about what their store would become. They wanted the excellence of Chick-fil-a but with a few personal touches added in. They all agreed they wanted to have a hands-on approach to create a family-style atmosphere.

The mission for Barberitos all started with the question: what can we give back to our people and community? Brian, Andy, and Sonya desired their customers to have a good experience and enjoy spending time at Barberitos. They also wanted the staff to be treated with high standards and given lots of grace. They wanted it to be more than just a place to grab a bite to eat or make some money. They desired to bring real change. Through this, their mission statement formed. Barberitos' mission is to create a God-honoring, memorable experience through honesty, humility, launching, constant improvement, and relationships. This mission has become evident through every part of the Barberitos experience.

Creating an atmosphere evident of this work starts with the employees. The staff consists mostly of college and high school-aged employees. While this job would not turn into a career for everyone, it could at least be a stepping stone to help launch them off into whatever came next. So they decided to teach and launch. And where better to start than with dishes? The first thing they teach every new employee is how to wash the dishes and sweep the floor. It's real life, real work, and real skills needed to thrive in the future. Learning how to honor the small things is imperative so that later, the big things are accomplished with excellence, like rolling the perfect burrito (which I'm told is all about the steam). That's why they encourage all their employees to maintain a growth mindset and read books like The Servant. It's all about having a serving mindset no matter what position placed in. Ms. Sonya doesn't just speak these virtues, she acts them out as well. On any given day you can come in and find Ms. Sonya serving on the line. She teaches conflict resolution and how to work with people by using her actions as an example.

Each employee brings an individual story to the table. They all start in unique places and have to learn different lessons. For some, it is learning how to cope when it is hard, whether it is a bad day or a tough home life. Their overall goal is for their employees is to be relational and know they are not alone. Knowing you have people who are with you and for you makes all the difference.

Barberitos is not just about hard work and overcoming challenges. They also like to have fun too. Many of the employees have created a community outside of the store. They live together, go hiking, and share meals. The friendships formed make working on the line together even more enjoyable.

The familiar atmosphere created among the staff resonates throughout the entire store. The food is good, and the people are even better. This experience makes it a go-to come-back spot for those who move away. Many people will not call their visit home complete without a quick trip to Barbs.

Beyond the people and virtues established, Barberitos makes it their mission to stay fresh. They are so dedicated to what they serve, there are not any freezers in the store. Produce & food trucks come three times a week. Every day the salsas, guacamole, sauces, and marinades are made fresh. The beans are also are cooked fresh every day. This takes time and effort, requiring the staff to start preparation at 6 am so they can open at 11 am. "It takes that long but we want to get it right. It’s a lot to do but we’re a team. We never have to go at it alone," says Ms. Sonya.

Barberitos also provides catering. They set up a taco bar like the serving line to bring the full store experience. The taco bar features soft & hard shell tacos with multiple toppings to choose from. If the party includes ten people or more, they will deliver it to you. Servers can also be hired to ensure quality. Currently, with Covid guidelines in place, they have created personally wrapped boxes to provide the safest experience possible when catering. They also offer their boxed option for school groups and team dinners.

Barberitos Specials:

  • Mini Monday

  • Ground Turkey on Wednesday

  • All-day kids day on Wednesday

  • Fish Fridays

  • Ask about the not so secret menu

Barbs love to accommodate people. They are all about fun new creations and working around allergies so everyone can enjoy eating out. They offer vegan, vegetarian, Keto, and Whole 30 diet-friendly options. They are glad to work with any other dietary needs or allergies that can be tricky to accommodate. The staff will even change gloves if needed. Everyone is welcome and can find something delicious.

Barberitos has become a staple to Johnson City. Many people who live here have formed a deep love for this restaurant and the employees. The people who have worked at Barbs go forward with tremendous character development, a lasting sense of belonging and, the skillset of rolling the best burrito in town.

All of us at The Colin & Carly team love Barberitos and are so grateful for their business. We hope you will give them a try if you have not and continue to support them. Thank you for helping Johnson City to thrive!

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