Thursday, July 18, 2024

Long Beach BBQ Festival is stacked with some of the finest—and this is the local couple behind it

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As the second annual Long Beach BBQ Festival approaches its day of taking over Shoreline Aquatic Park this Saturday, May 25, Longbeachize and Brian Addison have partnered with the festival to highlight some the local talent being featured at the festival. Across the past month, we’ve features stories on Black-owned Brother’s Keepers, Mexican-American-centric Big Brian’s Meats, and veteran-owned and Filipino fusion barbecue that is Full Send.

Today, we focus on the incredible couple behind the whole festival, Qiana and Ian Mafnas, who also own and operate Axiom Kitchen, a barbecue popup that has garnered a (rightful) cult-like following while expanding the presence of what we proudly dub West Coast BBQ.

But before we do…

The vendor list at Long Beach BBQ Festival is stacked

This year’s participants at the Long Beach BBQ Festival is unquestionably larger than its inaugural year—more than five times larger to be exact. And it offers some of the finest representations of West Coast BBQ:

  • Axiom Kitchen
  • Big Brian’s Meats
  • Brother’s Keeper BBQ 
  • El Guero y La Flaca
  • Full Send BBQ
  • Good Smoke Better Eats
  • High Roller BBQ 
  • OSO Good BBQ
  • Good Smoke Better Eats
  • Fat Boys BBQ LA
  • Good Smoke Better Eats
  • Fat Boys BBQ
  • Janer Family BBQ
  • Smoked n’ Blazed BBQ
  • Smoked and Salted BBQ
  • Magilla’s BBQ
  • Just Wright BBQ
  • Robert Earl’s BBQ
  • Midway City BBQ
  • Rib Bones BBQ
  • PS Smoked Meats
  • Mussels and Pearls
  • Chaudown Kitchen
  • Chef T “The Rising Phoenix”
  • Smokestack Lightnin BBQ
  • Watson’s Pizza

And, of course, there will be live music, with the lineup including:

  • Indica Roots 
  • Makenna
  • Phoenyx & Co.
  • Gil T
  • Dead Ringer
  • Ms. B Royal

And the reason for this stacked lineup? Qiana and Ian have built a deep sense of community and connection through the art of smoking meats and hospitality—and the thread connecting their own small business, Axiom Kitchen, to the festival is as simple as it comes: Humans celebrating one another.

Long Beach BBQ Festival was really supposed to be a birthday party—and became so much more

Last year, Axiom Kitchen Smoked Meats & BBQ ventured toward its first birthday after a wildly successful kick-off to the barbecue scene.

People perpetually lined up for Ian’s array of smoked beef rib hunks, thickly sliced’n’barked brisket, and strips of tri-tip get slathered in herbed clarified butter. And then they would follow through with an assortment of Qiana’s masterful sides and sauces, like her two barbecue sauces, one with smoked Ancho chiles and the other honoring Kansas City-style. Then there was her famed corn, fried in butter and then tossed with onion, green peppers, and bacon. Her rightfully adored mac’n’cheese. Bourbon baked beans. Coconut milk-lined coleslaw.

People love Axiom—and rightfully so.

“We had come so far in a year and it wasn’t even just about us; it was about all the people who helped us along the way. We wanted to celebrate our success and figured, ‘Why not have a little barbecue festival at Trademark Brewing [near Downtown Long Beach]?'” Qiana said. “We wanted to involve those people and celebrate them as we celebrated ourselves.”

The amount of love being shared and felt was perhaps a bit too much: Hundreds upon hundreds showed up and showed out, prompting vendors to run out of food, Trademark to be packed wall-to-wall, and Ian and Qiana rethinking their birthday party-as-festival endeavor.

“It was a great time—better to overwhelmingly succeed than seeing no one there,” Qiana said. “But we realized there was something that the community wanted and needed. So we moved it and this year is really an example of how not only supportive and interconnected the West Coast barbecue community is, but how willing everyone is to celebrate that.”

The story of Axiom Kitchen has always been about human connection—which serves as the backbone for the Long Beach BBQ Festival

Before Qiana and Ian found stability in a life of smoke and meat, they met more than a decade ago as addicts—something they are both open about and extremely proud to discuss how they’ve overcome it.

“We knew the time wasn’t right and that we weren’t treating ourselves right — even though he’s been trying to marry me for a decade,” Qiana told me during that first year of operation in 2022. “So we had to separate to work on ourselves. When we became sober, we realized we had both entered into social services, working to help other people through their trauma.”

That work of handling and working through people’s trauma via their own experience has a natural connection to food: Food provides sustenance, energy, and stability—and when they reconnected with a better sense of mental health as well as a better grip on who they were, moving toward a brighter future became paramount.

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Qiana has been in and out of the food industry since the age of 15, working everywhere from In-N-Out and Tender Greens to Musso & Frank’s and the now-shuttered Dialogue. The comfort with which she slid between food jobs led her to be comfortable with the idea of starting her own food business. Ian, meanwhile, fell headfirst into food with little experience: Tasting Texan-style smoked brisket for the first time in 2020, he began experimenting on his own.

Since then, the pair has not only enjoyed the fruits of their success through events and festivals like the Long Beach BBQ festival but will take it to another level: They are in talks to move into a brick-and-mortar in the coming months—but for right now, the location is a secret.

“We can’t wait to welcome people into a storefront but until then, we have the West Coast’s best barbecue festival for the community to come out and support right here in Long Beach,” Qiana said.

Light ‘er up, baby.

The second annual Long Beach BBQ Festival takes place at Shoreline Aquatic Park, located at 200 Aquarium Way, on Saturday, May 25, from noon to 9PM. For tickets, click here.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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