Yoga and Meditation Daily
Saturday, 28 May, 2022

Texas BBQ, Yoga Combo Works for Imperial Couple

IMPERIAL — A little bit of Central Texas has come to the city of Imperial, in the form of the succulent meats that native son Daniel Hughes is..


IMPERIAL — A little bit of Central Texas has come to the city of Imperial, in the form of the succulent meats that native son Daniel Hughes is serving from his offset smoker.

Operating under the name of Saltcedar BBQ, Hughes is both touting his connection to the Valley while his menu pays tribute to his father’s Central Texas roots and that region’s renowned barbecue.

Hughes also has as his assistant his wife, Gina Hughes, who in her own time and adjacent space is offering up a different kind of bodily bliss at her yoga studio, Ananda Yoga, itself a reflection of her own search for a better work-life balance.

And while the possibility of housing their separate businesses under one roof had been a goal for the budding entrepreneurs, their current location at 297 S. Imperial Ave. in Imperial has exceeded their expectations.

Smoked cuts of pork and beef are the mainstays of the menu at Saltcedar BBQ in Imperial, which opened in February. | JULIO MORALES PHOTO

“It checked all the boxes,” Daniel Hughes said. “We’re very fortunate. It’s like the perfect spot, it’s got everything for us, for sure.”

Its spacious storefront houses Gina’s yoga studio, whose ambience is enhanced by a pair of large east-facing windows that allow plenty of natural light to flow in.

“It’s open and welcoming and people are responding positively,” Gina said.

To the rear lies the kitchen, where Daniel stores and prepares the prime beef brisket, jalapeno cheddar sausages, pulled pork, pork spareribs and Brandt Beef ribs that comprise the eatery’s menu.

The Hughes’ dual business venture occupies the space where Tia’s House of Coffee once operated and is surrounded by a large outdoor area that offers outdoor seating. Onsite diners can admire Daniel’s mobile offset smoker, examine the lot’s raised garden beds, and marvel at the old stage from the now-closed Twilight Smoke Shop that has found a new outdoor home.

The Hughes’ dual business venture is also notable because it represents a fresh reboot for Daniel and Gina, who both were looking for a break from their previous occupations in the San Diego area. The couple had relocated from the Valley to San Diego about eight years ago in search of better employment opportunities.

In San Diego, Daniel, an experienced plumber, would soon find himself immersed in his trade, often working 60 to 80 hours in a week, leaving little time for any leisure. Yet, as impressive as his paycheck was, he began wondering how long his knees could withstand the physical demands of the job.

Nowadays, his cook days can typically last about 15 hours, and requires constant monitoring of the intensity of the wood-fed fire in the smoker’s firebox. Even so, he has no regrets.

“Yeah, it’s always going to be work, but it’s what I love so it doesn’t feel so much like work,” Daniel said.

Saltcedar BBQ pitmaster Daniel Hughes prepares a side of pork ribs prior to placing it in his offset smoker. | JULIO MORALES PHOTO

While in San Diego, Gina would go on to establish and operate a childcare center at the couple’s home for about five years. It was the high demands of that vocation that had prompted her to consider yoga as a way to decompress.

In 2019, Gina would undertake yoga teacher training while in San Diego and a year later become a master of reiki, a Japanese form of hands-on therapy whose aim is to promote healing and relaxation by stimulating the body’s energy pathways.

Though Gina is currently employed full-time in the medical field, classes at Ananda Yoga are scheduled a few days a week during her days off and announced a few days in advance on the studio’s Instagram account.

“Yoga helped me find a way to release that stress and in just a few weeks I felt more calm and happier,” she said. “I truly believe in the benefits of yoga and I want to share that with the community.”

Ananda Yoga borrows its name from a Hindu philosophical term that literally means bliss or happiness. As opposed to temporary instances of pleasure, ananda encompasses a joy that keeps one’s mind enthralled and attention permanently engaged.

“It looks to find the balance between the mind and the body and creating this harmony,” Gina said.

So see

Prior to setting up shop in Imperial about a month ago, Saltcedar BBQ was operating temporarily as a pop-up food stand at Mexca Brew Co. in downtown El Centro.

It was actually brewery owner Ernie Quintero who had tipped off Daniel about the availability of the building in Imperial where Saltcedar BBQ and Ananda Yoga can now be found.

The building also holds special significance for Daniel. His very first job as a teenager in the 1990s was washing dishes at Grandma J’s, a diner that had occupied the very same building he now works in.

Orders of Saltcedar BBQ’s pulled pork come with Texas toast, barbecue sauce and a side. | JULIO MORALES PHOTO

Afterwards, he held various jobs in various local cooking establishments, and later developed a fondness for Central Texas-style barbecue while traveling with his band, Slab City.

His return to the Valley after his and Gina’s sojourn in San Diego can be considered more than a change of scenery, but a change of heart, as well.

“I love this place,” he said about his hometown of Imperial. “I used to resent it. Growing up it’s easy to do in a place like this but you learn to love it.”

That newfound appreciation can be glimpsed in his business’ very name, too. Though he would never even think of using salt cedar, or tamarisk as it is also commonly known, as a source of fire for smoking meats, Daniel said he appreciates its ability to thrive in the harsh desert environment.

“That’s what kind of sold me on it,” he said. “The more I thought about it, I said ‘That’s kind of cool.'”

To follow Ananda Yoga on Instagram, go to @anandayoga_bliss

To follow Saltcedar BBQ on Instagram, go to @saltcedar_bbq

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