Carlos “Cawzlos” Lopez cooks up both sides of the menu at BBQ vs. Vegan. The restaurant’s homestyle meals—including meaty tri-tip sandwiches and perfectly fluffy vegan falafel—are high-quality and fast. Located inside Round Corner Tavern, the bar that’s served Sacramentans at 24th and S streets for more than 70 years, BBQ vs. Vegan does not plan on opening a drive-thru (even though two vehicles have literally driven through the bar in its history). Lopez, also a local musician, takes the same artistic approach with food and music. “The fusion food I make is a lot like the music I make. It’s like hip-hop and rock mixed together,” he said. “It’s like a hybrid of some sort. I guess that’s just the kind of person I am.”
You’re a musician who’s toured the country and most of Europe. What are you doing in a kitchen?
I lived a crazy life with the music. [Then] I found out I had a daughter. She’s the best thing that happened to me, and I realized that I couldn’t be on the road all the time. … Because I’m an artist, everything I do, I come from an artist mindset. Everything is in a frame-of-art mentality. I’m just constantly changing my mediums.
How’d you segue into food?
I came into the food business when I was younger. My grandparents owned a restaurant, El Padrino. They’re off of Fruitridge [Road]. They’ve been doing it for over 30 years. Authentic Mexican food: It’s bomb. That’s some O.G. shit. Fools ain’t ready for that.
But after I stopped music completely about two-and-a-half years ago, I told some old friends of mine that I needed a job. I have no education; I didn’t graduate high school. Like, I’ve been traveling the world. I’ve been gone. At that point, I wasn’t stable enough to raise my daughter.
So my friends let me work at My BBQ Spot off of 25th and J [streets]. I was just sweeping and mopping, and I fell in love with the food business. That’s where I got initiated into the business. I became a prep cook, and I just fell in love with tri-tip.
And then you came to Round Corner?
Even when I was mopping the floors, I was in love with the food business. I felt like, “Oh my God! This is me. This is what I really want to do.”
At that time, my buddy came up to me and said, “Hey buddy, I got this spot over here,” which is Round Corner. “Let’s open something in there. I think it will work.” So we checked it out, and I was like, “I don’t know, man. This crazy dive bar?”
What did it look like when you got there?
The one thing that drew me into that spot was the fact that it’s been there for 70 years. The location, it’s not the greatest. But then it is because … in downtown it is so hard to find parking. That place is a gem. If you really look at it, that place is a gem.
Why BBQ vs. vegan?
The reason it’s called BBQ vs. Vegan is because my partner, Steve Glassfire, pulled me from the BBQ scene and suggested we have a dueling vegan menu. Like, your shit vs. my shit, and we fuse it together.
It was hell in that kitchen, having all these carnivore dishes with these vegetarian dishes in that tiny kitchen and not contaminating anything. We have separate fryers. It’s deep. It’s hella intricate. We don’t cook the vegan food on the grill where we cook the meat products. We cook them on separate skillets.
It’s a process, and, I mean, there’s no cross-contamination. You know what I’m saying? The knives we use are all sterilized. Everything is constantly getting sanitized for it to turn out as a carnivore/vegan restaurant.
So now I’m really into the vegan. My vegan tofu rice bowl smashes, bro.
Which tastes better: vegan or barbecue?
I’m a meat eater. You know, though, I think they can be equally as good. I used to think that vegan was bland and not tasteful, because I just tasted other people’s versions of vegan and vegetarian food. Now that I taste my version—not bragging, but now that I eat, breathe and shit the business of vegan, vegetarian and carnivore dishes—I have to think about what other restaurants are doing. What can I do that makes them want to do what I’m doing?
Does BBQ vs. Vegan plan on expanding?
The next move is right next door where that art gallery is. We’re going to be making home-style dinners, fast. You can go get ribs, like, right now! Like how we just went and got coffee.
The next store I’m going to open [will be] a barista deli where you can get coffee in the morning and home-style meals at night. All the good stuff, like, BBQ-platter-type foods: hot links, brisket, tri-tip, pulled pork, the whole nine!