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Emil Villa'a barbeque sauce

Many months ago I posted a short history of Emil Villa's barbeque restaurant company. My complaint
was that the original barbeque sauce
had been supplanted with something
called " brown sauce" a tasteless
vinegery bland mess. I had commented that the Hayward unit
had about four years ago come up
with the real deal. About six weeks
ago I was in to revisit the Hayward
unit. It was a Tuesday early evening.
On that particular night the real deal
occured. The following week on Thursday I brought a small party in
and sadly on this day, the "brown sauce" was served. I also in the mean
time did go to the LIvermore unit and
their sauce was just so so. It had taste but not the mouth watering
want to come back again and again
taste that made Emil Villa's so famous. I hope to return to the Hayward unit sometime soon in the
evening on a Tuesday in hopes that
it has something to do with who makes the sauce.
BTW. the so called original sauce is labeled EVB on the menu. In the meantime also I came across a woman who had eaten at Emil Villa's
first unit a few years before I was
born. She to this day remembers the
original sauce. Her fiancee took her
there for dates before they were married. Good luck everyone.

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  1. In the mid-seventies, I worked as a waitress for a year and a half at the original Emil's on Telegraph in Oakland. I was finally out of Cal and desperately needed money. We waitresses wore polyester pastel uniforms that we purchased and washed, the cooks were all men for whom the restaurant provided showers and freshly laundered clothing each day, and the management very old style. I believe the story about EVB adapting an old Kiowa Indian meat cooking method appeared some years after Clorox Corporation bought the restaurant chain for $7M cash (yes!) from Emil himself after I left in '77. When I worked at EVB, the restaurant choices in the Oakland area were rather limited so EVB was a very popular place! However, after several later corporate changes, quality degradation, and Oakland's improved restaurant choices, the restaurant chain lost it's appeal and broke up. The original "brown sauce" was the only sauce available til long after Clorox purchased the chain and the relatively recent red barbeque sauce was an improvement over the brown sauce (now called "brown gravy"). The original brown sauce recipe is long lost, I'm sure-during my time at EVB, I remember that one of the cooks had to return early from his vacation as the restaurant chain was beginning to run short of the brown sauce and he was the only one who knew the ingredients and how to make it! My husband and I still occasionaly visit the Walnut Creek pit (now named for a later owner) but find that quality lacks in several important areas (the ribs are a mere shadow of what they once were!), although it remains quite popular even now.

    1. The only thing about Emil Villa's that stands out for me, is their fresh cole slaw in a garlicky, creamy sauce....does anyone know how to replicate it???

      1 Reply
      1. re: ChowFun_derek

        I totally agree about the cole slaw. I don't even care for cole slaw that much. I would buy a case if I could find it. I'd never had anything like it. I remember thinking that it almost had a curry taste to it. I'd love the recipe or to be able to buy it by the jar. I do remember that they used to sell the dressing as well as their sauce at the restaurant but that was years ago.

      2. For some reason, I'm thinking the secret ingredient in the brown gravy was dill pickle juice.

        1. The original tasting brown sauce indeed can be found at the Hayward
          unit on Mission Blvd just past the junction of Foothill and Jackson st
          on the right hand side. Parking is available. The trick is to figure out
          which day the cook who knows how to make it has done his job.

          Having followed the chain since about 1957 when my parents would
          buy Emil's barbeque ribs and pies from the Telegraph store to take out
          I have a keen memory for the real thing. I went to the Walnut Creek
          store a few months back and complained about the sauce, whereupon
          the manager became defensive and insisted it was as it always had been.

          Pathetic!!! It's too bad because when I was a teengager we lived in
          Pleasant Hill, frequently we would go to Emil Villa's. After Clorox
          ran it into the ground and subsequent owners mismanaged the restaulrant
          chain, it was quite a surprise to find one last hold out to the original
          receipe. The only units I haven't been able to go to as yet are the San
          Ramon and San Carlos units so I can't report on the quality or lack
          thereof of their brown sauce.

          I must say though, at the Hayward and San Leandro units the quality
          and quantity of the meat servings is very substantial.

          The best buy is the Family size ribs. There's enough there for four
          and some left overs to take home.

          Getting back to the taste of the sauce, I really can't describe it but
          when it is made perfectly there is a lingering taste on one's lips
          that doesn't really want to go away, and so one leaves the restaurant
          with a reminder of what had transpired in taste, before.

          Richard SprossÄ

          2 Replies
          1. re: Richard C.Spross

            Ok, I remember EVB. I was born in 66. My parents would take me there every Sunday morning. My Grand Dad was friends with Emil. It had a diner setting. We were in Hayward. I was a young girl and I also ordered the same thing. Center cut adult plate of ribs, the fries were always hot and were steak fries and I always got a shredded lettuce salad with blue cheese. It was heaven. The sauce was brown, but not thick. I live in Wa. now and my desperate wealthy brother had ribs/sauce sent same day to us. The brown sauce is not the same now 30 years later. I would give anything to have the recipe for the sauce. It is indescribeable, not gravy, not BBQ sauce, but rich and brown and just the right consistency. God I miss that place. I wish someone had the recipe. I remember a sign above the kitchen door in the dining area...fresh mince pie. My mom always had it. We always went at least once a week and sat at the bar (eating bar) and had peaches and cream or strawberries and cream, fresh of course. Those were the days.
            Selene Norris/WA

            1. re: sjoynorris

              I grew up in Hayward and I remember the restaurant that near the library. I remember the cow head on the sign that looked like it was mounted like a hunting trophy. :) I always wanted to go there as a kid but my parents didn't go out much. I didn't get there until I was an adult and I wish I'd not wasted all those years.

              Other smells and tastes of Hayward that are not there are hot dogs at a little place near Palmer's drug store. The Big Top grocery store that had a mechanical clown out front. Inside had little stands of different types of food and the smell when you walked in was to die for. My cousin and I would walk there and buy bulk candy. I remember rock candy that looked like real rocks, not sugar crystals. Ahh memories. I'd love to take a vacation to the tastes and smells of my childhood. :)

          2. So can we buy the original brown sauce in a jar? My husband talks about this place all the time. I would love to get him a bottle. And should I go to the Hayward location?

            6 Replies
            1. re: homerandsatchi

              RE: Emil Villa's - Hayward: It was only 50 years ago, but I remember as if it was yesterday and always wanted to return to this restaurant that struck me as a child as one of the most delicious meals I had ever tasted. And tonight at the Hayward branch, all was well and I doubt if the decor, theme or menu has changed one bit.

              But now I get to order the "senior" (over age 55) special which is still way too much to eat - ordered the Emil Villa ribs with the "red sauce" and they were tender, sweet and smokey.

              Delicious sweet sour dijon mustardy dressing on the freshly shredded cabbbage that came as the "cole slaw" of two sides, which was a nice relief from the often soggy, dripping mystery glop that usually gets passed off as coleslaw. The BBQ beans again were sweet and savory, a perfect amount. Passed on the potato salad at this point as it was too creamy and bland and I was peaking out anyway on the large amount of ribs in this "senior" special - $14.95 for all of that and $2 more could have gotten me dessert too. Homemade pies sure sounded good before I tucked in the meal which left me not begging for more, but certainly knowing I will not wait another 50 years to return.

              It was such a tasty meal, I even thought the included lemonade in the senior special was fresh squeezed - could that be? So for a time warp winner, this was one chance to go home again and not be disappointed. Only disappointed, I did not go more often in the decades inbetween.

              1. re: homerandsatchi

                They used to sell the sauce in a jar, not sure what decade that was or if they still do. Last time I was there they did not.

                You don't know how happy this thread makes me. I felt like the only person alive that remembered the delicious ribs and sauce at "The Pit". My family has been going there since the early fifties and my mom used to carry me in in a laundry basket. No baby carriers in '57!

                I've often looked at regional sauces to see if the Pit used a sauce from some particular area, but no dice. It was spicy, peppery and savory, not sweet, more like a spicy gravy. The ribs without sauce were very tasty too, but the sauce really made them.

                Hope if anyone has a guess on the sauce they will post the recipe. I understand the idea about the pickle flavor, but that probably came from the big spear they served with all the dishes.

                Thanks again, everyone.

                Oh...and the PIE!

                1. re: tobycat

                  Greetings to all of you EV Brown Sauce lovers! My wife and I took my mother out to lunch yesterday to the Hickory Pit and guess what we had? Those ribs really brought back memories of when my grandparents, my parents and my two brothers and I would go their for dinner in the late 50's early 60's. I was born and raised in Walnut Creek and my two older brothers attended Las Lomas HS directly accross the street from the restaurant. I'm now in search of the EV Brown Sauce recipe and do hope that my search isn't in vain. Surely someone out there has something close. I still have my wife's leftover ribs in the refrigerator that I can only savor for one or two more days! Please help me so I don't have to go through the Brown Sauce withdrawal and make my Christmas a memorable one!

                  1. re: Brad Goeppert

                    Well I started going there in the 50's on Telegraph ave. That sauce made the ribs then I would run the bun in the sauce and eat every last bit. I'm cooking 150 LBs of ribs next month for the Chico Eagles. I use Kinders tequila and lime dry rub. If I could only get the recipe I would love to top off those ribs with the sauce.

                    1. re: chicoharv

                      Here's his stab at it on the Home Cooking board, http://www.chowhound.com/topics/47310...
                      Please chime in with your thoughts.

                    2. re: Brad Goeppert

                      Hi Brad, I've been trying to figure out what I did wrong to prevent me
                      from replying, and now it's fixed. One of the features of EVB's sauce was
                      that the taste lingered for days afterward. Naturally with such an experience
                      it became a natural silent seller to encourage return custormers.
                      To all: any ideas on which spice might have contributed to such an

                2. OK, I cry 'uncle'.
                  I will devote my culinary experience (well, yeah, I am a pastry chef by training, but I am more fond of MEAT) to attempt to re-create this recipe.
                  Culinary/taste bud memory is demonstrably unreliable and WRONG.
                  So, I call on ALL of you who remember this 'brown sauce' to answer the following questions:
                  1) How thick? Runny, or thick and gloppy?
                  2) Sweet? Sickly sweet, sour, or in-between?
                  3) Tangy? Lots of vinegar, totally like gravy, or in=between?
                  4) Heat? Black pepper, white pepper, or red pepper? Lots or a little?
                  I call on your collective memory for this. For me, the answers are:
                  *thick and gloppy
                  *no sweetness at all
                  *tangy, like a commercial BBQ sauce
                  *lots of black pepper.
                  Your memory?
                  There is a related thread in the recipe board. I have a more extensive post there, so check it out if you are interested.

                  1. I started eating at emil villas with my family in the early 60's ,and the only and original sauce then, was the brown sauce.
                    I eat alot of barbeque, and do quite a bit of barbequing myself. I have made a reasonable copy of the sauce a couple of times and the most important ingredent is drippings caught in a pan inside the barbeque. The drippings were from slow cooked ribs( 5-7 hours at 225 f) smoked with hickory. If you dont have that base forget it.
                    The original brown sauce was delicious, it had a very intense browed, smokey rib flavor that would slightly burn your lips.

                    The sauce was thin by most BBQ standards and was not put on the ribs untill after they had been taken out of the smoker.

                    I ate there right up until clorox bought them and the difference was drastic for the worst.

                    I still remember the thick hot plates piled high with ribs. First two toasted and butterd hamburger buns, then the ribs laid over the buns, then the brown sauce ladeled over the top and with a large portion of always hot steak fries.Cant forget the delicious vinigary pickels. The sauce would get on everything! Oh yeah. ( this is before clorox)

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: rob 3

                      yes... the wet fries or fries w/ sauce!

                      1. re: rob 3

                        Hi Rob and everyone. Sadly I haven't been able to get over to Emil Villa's for a year. The
                        last time was a visit to the San Leandro location with my daughter. We ordered the 'Family
                        rib size order which is good for four people. I ordered the " brown sauce' with the usual skepticism of result. Luck was with us that day, and I'd say it was a close second. I took a
                        pint home to pour over the left over ribs.. I think it lacked salt for one missing ingredient, and
                        of course it lacked that lingering on your lips taste which the original sauce produced.
                        Rob, your description brought back memories. I noticed that the San Leandro location
                        possibly now offers delivery. I found that information tonight when searching the web and
                        will have to check it out. The original sauce was nearly black/ burgundy in color.
                        In the past 6 years I've had a few good moments at Hayward's location, but that was really
                        long ago. I pretty well gave up on them when they changed the decor to their 'modern'
                        merchandising approach with young well intentioned but clueless wait servers.
                        My parents used to go to the telegraph ave location in the fifties and earlier to buy ribs
                        and bring it home. They were the first ribs I ever tasted, Emil Villa managed to keep the
                        quality control first rate over his small operation, even after he closed the Oakland spot,
                        opened the Walnut Creek and San Leandro stores. Apparently he was running the
                        Hayward location during his Oakland years. I believe all the other more recent restaurants
                        that folks remember come from Clorox's attempt to build a national chain. From earlier
                        research I did, they bought it in 1979 and sold it six years later to a group of former
                        employees who then upgraded the menu and introduced the St Louis style baby back ribs
                        and the ' red vs brown ' nomenclature for the sauce. Of course the brown sauce was a
                        disaster, but by that time I guess they figured they were reinventing themselves. Six years
                        later they went bankrupt and sold or closed many of the locations they had bought from
                        Clorox and for those investors who wanted to keep the stores open they apparently divided
                        the units among themselves. Thus some are called 'Emil Villa's California Barbeque'
                        and others are called 'Emil Villas' Hickory Pit ' .

                        So I really don't know about how to create the sauce. Supposedly it had a trade name and
                        was registered. The original sauce was never sold in a bottle. Only the later red sauce
                        was marketed that way.

                        A friend of mine now is working in San Leandro, and it may be possible for me to get him
                        to bring an order of ribs over, since I no longer drive and taking a bus out there is just
                        too much hassle time wise, and he lives not far from me.

                        Well blessings to all and happy memories.
                        Richard C. Spross

                        1. re: Richard C.Spross

                          I probably never had the "real thing" brown sauce because my experience with the Hickory Pit places was the one in Strawberry shopping center on 101 in Mill Valley starting in the late 70's (1978 or 1979). I couldn't imagine how any place could serve that tasteless brown stuff and say it was barbecue sauce.

                          1. re: Mick Ruthven

                            So that was when Clorox took it over and it has usually never been the same.
                            The next owner group made the menu what it is today, but changed the name
                            of the barbeque sauce to 'bronw sauce' . Frankly when I had it it usually tasted
                            like it had come off some supermarket shelf and mass produced. It had a lighter
                            color and zero flavor as you observed. I suppose they were attempting to steer new
                            customers towards their ' red sauce' figuring that most of the customers who previously had supported the restaurant chain had passed away or whatever.
                            Therefore it would figure that they would attempt to reinvent the brand with a new
                            menu and new products. Problem was that plenty of people were still around.
                            Poor service, high prices, small portions reflected what had become of the business
                            during the 'Clorox years'. All that needed to be done was to have restored the
                            great service, lowered the prices and restored the large portions. Today that has
                            mostly occurred with the few remaining outlets. The prices although high by
                            sixties standards do reflect the lower value of the dollar and the increased costs
                            of running such a business. The other thing the second group didn't figure in, was
                            how famous the brand had become, and that for 40 years or so people were
                            sending their children , grandchildren and great grand children to the what once
                            was the best barbecue in the East Bay. So all that was lost and disregarded
                            in the attempt to reinvent themselves. Sadly it didn't quite work out and today
                            well, just try the different stores on different days and compare. Fact is in mho
                            it can't. Once in a blue moon........I've finally reconciled myself to this fact and
                            am happy to have had many fine meals with my parents and later in my twenties
                            before Emil Villa sold it off.

                            1. re: Mick Ruthven

                              Mill Valley was my first experience with "Barbecue" I went in expecting spare ribs like I would get in a New York Chinese restaurant...and out came these strange stringy things drowned in an insipid brown gravy...totally turned me off at the time...now of course I get BBQ wherever I can find it! I have returned with a friend to the Walnut Creek location, and I get it with the red sauce on the side and that double serving of the cole slaw!

                              1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                You validate my observation about the degradation of the original sauce to a
                                nameless 'brown sauce'. Mill Valley was a 'Clorox' expansion.
                                If it helps you feel any better, my now grown children like the 'red sauce'.
                                Of course they never had the opportunity to have the original.

                        2. Side note, they're finally doing something at the old Emil Villa's sight in Rockridge at 51st and Broadway. It will be interesting to see what goes in there...might be a new building. Hard to say right now.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: ML8000

                            My son is old enough to remember Emil Villa's and we all miss it. I loved their cole slaw and crab sandwiches. When I made a nostalgic stop of one of my last nights up at Cal State East Bay, I pretty sure you could buy the sauce and dressing at the spot on Mission.

                            1. re: Cheesy Oysters

                              > I grew up in Hayward and I remember the restaurant that near the library.
                              > I remember the cow head on the sign

                              Wasn't that The Rancher?

                              > Other smells and tastes of Hayward that are not there are hot dogs at a little place near Palmer's drug store.
                              > The Big Top grocery store that had a mechanical clown

                              Wasn't there a Purity grocery store a block east of Mission. They had a distinctive building style -- like a concrete quonset hut.

                              The Doggie Diner next to the post office, with the big head of the dog on top.

                              And, of course, La Imperial.

                              1. re: chow_eb

                                You are correct Zasha, the restaurant you are remembering is The Rancher, however
                                we are talking about a restaurant located across the juncture of Foothill Blvd and
                                mission south of your location about a block further. Kind of across from the old
                                Lyons restaurant.
                                Richard C.Spross

                          2. Regarding a to go order.

                            I finally was able to have my friend bring me some pork ribs with extra brown barbeque sauce.
                            Plenty of large juicy ribs with a great taste. However I'm not happy with the fries, which were
                            precut lightly fried. But that is one of the cost cutting features we seem to have to live with.
                            I would have liked more pickles or at least larger ones.
                            The coleslaw is generous, but not remarkable.
                            Of course the brown gravy lacks the zip and the lingering taste of the original, butr it was
                            okay and I could doctor it up accordingly.

                            Still wish I could have the original. I remember a cook in the 80's who left the Concord
                            location and opened his own in San Ramom under his own name. When asked if he was
                            able to recreate the original sauce, he told me it was a trade secret owned by Clorox.

                            So I suppose they just filed it away when they sold off the chain.

                            Richard C. Spross

                            Emil Villa's California Barbecue
                            1800 E 14th St, San Leandro, CA 94577

                            1. Further as I mentioned once upon a time in a reply to Jerry's recipe, I think Emil Villa used
                              inexpensive ingredients which could be used from his out put. So leftover beef could be
                              cooked to make beef stock, there were onions ,tomatoes,, cabbage, carrots, possibly
                              green peppers, left over pork parts that could be used for stock, and here's the part that
                              I had completely missed in thinking about making that famous sauce,....... He made pies;
                              All kinds of pies, but he could have added apples, peaches, cherries, lemons, and some of
                              you may remember other ingredients from the pie side of his operation which would have
                              contributed to the ineffable taste.

                              I'd like to know what the stuff was that they spray on the meat during the slow cooking
                              process in the smoker. The word Pyro cure is mentioned as it's trademark, but what I've
                              found on Google is nothing that sounds like it would be used in such an application.

                              Maybe it's just some kind of watered down citrus juice. I found one guy on a barbeque site
                              saying he used lime juice to help seal in the juices and tenderize the pork.

                              Also the color of the original sauce was nearly black with a deep burgundy or purple tinge
                              Finally I'm about to try some cumin in a homemade batch, maybe some apple cider vinegar too, as those ingredients are found in many Appalachian barbecue sauce recipes.

                              Well good luck all.
                              Richard C. Spross

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Richard C.Spross

                                While I've enjoyed reading this..my memories of the original sauce are very different than yours. It was not "nearly black" but a medium brown. I ate it almost every Friday night in the 60's with my grandparents at the original on Telegraph in Oakland. It was the original sauce with the red sauce being introduced after the Clorox sale as were many other items on the menu. It was peppery with a tang and I clearly remember the flavor being heavily towards a beef base or some prepared sauce added. I can see them adding the drippings from the various meats...that would only make sense. I do think it had a vinegar or some acid as well.

                                1. re: cakebaker

                                  I suppose you are correct about the nearly black comment, perhaps that was a bit too
                                  much. But my memory is at least of a dark dark brown color. No matter, we all see color
                                  differently anyway. My memory of the introduction of the St.Louis red sauce came when
                                  Clorox sold off the restaurant chain to the new investor group in 1979 which subsequently expanded the menu. At least that's when I experienced it at the Concord location and the subsequent downgrading of the original to a new formula which became known as 'brown sauce' and to this day is a shadow of the original.
                                  So folks keep wishing. Cheers.

                              2. I was watching "Man vs. Food" tonight and Adam was in Oklahoma. He went to a place that makes an "onion burger". It reminded me of EVs burgers, they would ask you if you wanted onions cooked in (yes!). And then DCA mentioned a cooking method of the Kiowa Indians who are from...Oklahoma...so maybe that is where we need to look for clues to making the sauce.

                                I haven't given up. I just hope that if the remaining branches close, a cook will have pity on us and give us the recipe.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: tobycat

                                  >I just hope that if the remaining branches close, a cook will have pity on us and give us the recipe.<

                                  Does that mean that you think the real thing is being made in some restaurant now? I didn't get that impression from reading this thread.

                                  1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                    Frankly I haven't been to the Campbell location, nor the San Ramon location, so I can't speak from personal experience, but as far as I've been able to determine, the Campbell
                                    unit came along when Clorox owned the business. I don't know when the San Ramon
                                    unit came about. However in the eighties I had visited a Rib joint owned by an ex
                                    cook for the Clorox group who had worked at the Concord location ( now closed )
                                    There is a remote possibility that he may have gotten the franchise from one of the
                                    current two branches and consolidated the two businesses. The San Ramon
                                    branch is not located where the one I'm referring to was located. The former chef
                                    from the Concord told me at the time that 'Clorox' owned the recipe and he could
                                    not duplicate it for legal reasons.

                                    Also in the EV Brown Sauce thread I mentioned my current source for a barbeque
                                    sauce that looks very much like what has been alluded to in these discussions.
                                    It's called Oakland Barbecue sauce and the recipe is found in Dean Aidells book
                                    titled, 'The Complete Meat Cookbook'.

                                    1. re: Richard C.Spross

                                      Oh Richard, thank you! The name Aidell looked familiar...he's a sausage maker from San Leandro, so I bet this sauce is right on the money!

                                      THANKS SO MUCH!

                                      1. re: tobycat

                                        Some how my reply disappeared when I interrupted my writing to visit another poster.
                                        Oh well. Cakebaker was correct about it having beef stock of some kind or another.
                                        Jerry h I think it was who suggested the use of pickle juice, which also seems to be a possibility.
                                        I've used Schilling beef powdered gravy as a start. Anyway it is a new year and I'm
                                        gearing up to have another go at it.

                                        I talked to someone who used to work for EV;'s when Emil ran his restaurant and
                                        he said the sauce was made off site and then brought in to the restaurant.

                                        So it's anybodies guess.
                                        Good luck with your search.
                                        Richard C. Spross

                                      2. re: Richard C.Spross

                                        Just a small correction.
                                        Dr. Dean Edell, one of the first physician broadcasters in the nation.
                                        Bruce Aidells Ph.D.sausage maker.
                                        Both are doctors so it is easy to confuse them. ;-)

                                      3. re: Mick Ruthven

                                        No Mick, I don't, but it's sort of a jumping off point, sauce wise.

                                    2. Complete side note: the EV in Rockridge (Safeway shopping center on Pleasant Valley/Broadway) has been knocked down and something else is going in...or something. It'll be interesting to see what.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: ML8000

                                        I believe I saw a sign a couple weeks ago saying a new AAA office

                                        1. re: kc72

                                          That would make sense since the AAA on MacArthur Blvd is going to be a Kaiser facility (I think).