The Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ sign at 395 N. Rosemead Blvd. has become a part of the landscape in the Hastings Ranch community of Pasadena. This year, the owner, Robin Salzer has joined an elite group of California entrepreneurs lauded with statewide recognition as “Small Business of the Year Honoree” status in their respective state assembly districts. Salzer was singled out by Assemblymember Chris Holden (41st District), who stated, “I am very pleased to recognize Robin Salzer of Robin’s Woodfire BBQ for his successful career as a small business owner, and the positive impact he has made in our community.”
Out of 3.3 million small business owners in the state, Robin was one of 80 honored at the CA Small Business Day celebration held at the Sacramento Convention Center on May 25th. The day commenced with State and Assembly leaders holding a morning session, followed by the Awards Luncheon. “This was a once in a lifetime honor and experience,” was Robin’s sentiment. The day rounded off with a special reception held for the honorees and a tour of the Capitol.
Robin got his start in the restaurant business at the age of 16 working at an IHOP in Milwaukee. Seven years later at the age of 23, he became the youngest IHOP franchise owner in the history of the company when he bought the restaurant. He’d grown up with a love for BBQ and in 1982 he moved to Pasadena and opened Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ. Anyone who knows this long-time Pasadena resident is well aware of his passion for his family, the business of BBQ and his commitment to his community, as evidenced by his generosity, personal involvement and support for many organizations over the years.
George Falardeau, former Senior Vice President of Real Estate & Operations, Art Center College of Design, who has been a longtime friend of Robin, says “The phrase ‘character matters’ fits Robin, he’s the real thing. When you are next at his restaurant, watch and listen to how he treats his employees – that says volumes. He’s one of the good guys and I’m proud to call him a friend, a good friend.”
When you visit Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ you step into a delightful gallery of small town memorabilia that Robin and his family have collected during travels throughout America. His old-fashioned process of slow-smoking meats creates an intoxicating aroma of BBQ that greets everyone upon entering the restaurant. According to Robin: “All Meats are smoked with Apple and Oak wood for hours in our four-ton smoker, the Real Way. NO GAS, NO PROPANE, and NO STEAMING like some of those wannabe BBQ places. This here is a Rib Joint, pure and Simple. All Meats are smoked daily to ensure their freshness.” His barbeque spot is lauded by such foodies as Rachel Ray and LA Restaurant Critic Johnathan Gold.
Upon hearing of this honor to Robin, Gene Masuda, Vice Mayor, Council District 4 remarks: ”Robin Salzer & Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ are both attributes to our community. Robin is the definition of a good citizen - he runs a great business and thankful for his loyal patrons, gives back to the community. That is part of Robin’s success, his commitment to reinvest back into the community. We are so proud that Robin and his business Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ is in District 4.”
Robin’s 2007 run for the District 1 City Council seat was unsuccessful, but the campaign experience provided him with greater enlightenment about the interests, priorities and needs of residents in the district. He became even more inspired to leverage his business success to help the community and went on to launch two new projects, the Lemonade Brigade in Pasadena and Duarte, a youth entrepreneur-training program, and the Hot Meal Program at Jackie Robinson Center that provides meals for low-income and homeless residents.
When knocking on doors during his campaign, Robin said he was repeatedly asked, “Can you help my son or daughter find a job? Or how can they get skills to get a job?” Hearing this so often opened his eyes to a need and in 2008 Robin founded the Lemonade Brigade, creating job opportunities for high school students in Pasadena working in conjunction with NATHA, a non-profit in Northwest Pasadena with John Muir High School students and in Duarte at Mt. Olive Alternative High School. This social enterprise project teaches youth how to start, operate and sustain a small business. The Lemonade Brigade pop-up canopy is now a familiar site at events in the region, including events at the Rose Bowl, the summer concerts at the Levitt Pavilion, Taste of Duarte, City of Hope and other events. In fact, the City of Duarte has acknowledged the Duarte Lemonade Brigade as the city’s official beverage. The success and growing popularity of this youth entrepreneurial program has resulted in discussions to expand the Lemonade Brigade throughout Assembly District 41 by working with local Chambers and Rotary clubs as sponsor and mentors.
The Hot Meal Program evolved from collaboration between Robin and another Pasadena businessman Walter Jackson, who spent years visiting stranger’s homes as a locksmith and a volunteer delivering meals to homebound. Jackson set up an impromptu cold weather shelter to help feed hungry people and went door to door to restaurants asking for help to feed them and was greeted with, “No,” from everyone, that is until he approached Robin Salzer. Jackson was elated when Robin said, “As long as I have food you have food”. After winter passed and the shelter closed Robin and Walter lost touch, but they reconnected four years later when Robin was running for District 1 City Councilmember.
While campaigning, Robin knocked on the doors of many people who knew him in the community or his restaurant and recognized him. Some would invite him into their homes to talk, usually the kitchen, and in offering him something to drink Robin observed that refrigerators of some of the residents were poorly stocked. This opened his eyes even more and he realized how blessed he was in life, and business. He realized that his continual reinvestment in the community over the years had been reciprocated by local residents, businesses and organizations. They had in fact helped sustain Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ throughout the years when he weathered severe up’s and down’s of running the restaurant. An idea came to him and when he reconnected with Walter, they teamed up to proceed with Robin’s idea to create a Hot Meal Program.
In 2010, Robin founded the Pasadena Hot Meal Program to not only help feed those in need, but also as a place for people to come together, eat a hot meal and develop friendships. In 2015, The Pasadena Hot Meal Program celebrated its 5th year with 100,000 hot meals served. Robin invests his personal resources and says the program also receives help from food brokers, the Rose Bowl and Restaurant Depot, stating, “We will take donated food and overruns any time.” He sees the Hot Meal Program a way to bring people together to rebuild our communities one meal at a time.
According to Ishmael Trone of F & M Business Center is the incoming President of the Board of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce said: “Robin Salzer’s ultimate success in Pasadena comes not only from his established business and community involvement. It truly comes from his unwavering commitment to being involved in the business community, as he continuously assist business owners with daily operation challenges or local and state governmental policy changes affecting their business with his common sense approach. ‘He truly cares about the success of other business entrepreneurs.’ This is what makes Robin a valuable asset to the business community.”
Throughout his years residing in Pasadena, Robin Salzer has been involved with numerous city, civic and community boards as a volunteer, including: Transportation Advisory Commission; Pasadena Center Operating Company, Pasadena Fire Dept. Advisory Task Force for Station 36; Assemblymen’s Portantino & Holden’s Small Business Task Force; East Pasadena Business & Property Owners Association; Gold Line Design Task Force for Sierra Madre Villa Station. He has also served on the following nonprofit boards: VP San Rafael Neighborhood Association; 1st VP, Foothill Unity Center; Pasadena Education Foundation; Pasadena NAACP; Pasadena Museum of History; Pasadena Chamber of Commerce; Crown City News; Center for Community & Family Services; and East Arroyo Residents Association.
Robin is a proud resident of the Rose City where he resides with his wife, Ann-Marie Villicana and their twins Alexander and Nicolas (7 yrs. old) and Josefina (6 yrs. old).
George Falardeau comment sums it up: “Robin Salzer epitomizes the adage, ‘Doing good, is good business.’ What an appropriate distinction for a local 2016 Small Business of the Year that has a reputation for great BBQ.”