Yvette Helberg

By Kevin Tankersley

Co-owner of Helberg Barbecue

Yvette Helberg is the co-owner of Helberg Barbecue on Highway 6, a little bit west of Waco. She and her husband Phillip – both 28-years-old – recently celebrated their sixth anniversary, and are parents to 4-year-old Wayne. She studied public relations in college, and puts what she learned there to work in the back-of-the-house operations of the restaurant, where she oversees administration of the business. But she works up front if needed. The Helberg family attends Harris Creek Baptist Church, where they’re involved in a ministry geared toward foster children. Helberg isn’t afraid to share her faith — several of her tattoos have Biblical meanings. She’s quick to quote 1 Peter 4:10, which she describes as the motto by which they try to run their business: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

WACOAN: How long have y’all had Helberg Barbecue?

Helberg: We opened in April of 2018.

WACOAN: Were you somewhere previous to this?

Helberg: We were living in California. I graduated from college and was working in public relations. That was my major. Phil’s from Houston. But we got married out there. He got tired of California real fast. We moved out here to start to barbecue.

WACOAN: What brought y’all to this part of Texas from California?

Helberg: We wanted to move back to Texas. That was a must for us. I wanted to move back to a more rural area from where I grew up, but not in California. His stepsisters went to Baylor. We had come out for things. We had made many road trips. Southern California to Texas is a straight shot on I-10. It’s really super easy. It’s a long drive, but it’s a super straight drive. But we made a lot of road trips, did different routes, checked out different areas. I was sold on this area. He wasn’t at first. I kept pushing. We wanted to live outside of town. It makes more sense. Once we found a piece of property we liked, that’s when he was sold. We live out between Crawford and McGregor.

WACOAN: Where’d you go to college?

Helberg: I went to Biola University in La Mirada, California, right near Anaheim.

WACOAN: When did y’all move here?

Helberg: We moved here February of 2018.

WACOAN: What led y’all into the restaurant business?

Helberg: When we were in Southern California, I was working. My husband was working a part-time job, and also was missing Texas. My mom got him a little smoker from Home Depot for like 99 bucks or something. He started cooking in the backyard because we finally had a backyard. We hadn’t had one until then. He started cooking, one brisket at a time. It turned into a rabbit hole real fast with us. I eventually quit my job in 2017, the week of our wedding, and told them, “Well, my husband and I are gonna start something. We don’t know what it’s gonna look like. So I’m quittin’ my job.” And we just went from there. We were selling out of our backyard. We didn’t have the money for a storefront or anything. But we would feed our neighbors. It was really fun while we were doing it, just to get our feet wet. We realized we needed to move. It’s like, you’re crazy to move back to Texas where barbecue is so saturated. But also, that’s where the market is for it. We didn’t have the money or capital to do that in California. So we moved.

WACOAN: Were you working in public relations before that?

Helberg: Yes. I had different clients, pushing press releases out, reaching out to big media outlets. Just trying to get people featured.

WACOAN: Since you opened in 2018 in a barbecue-saturated state, what’s the secret? Why did y’all succeed?

Helberg: First, Waco didn’t have a lot of barbecue. There’s [Tony] DeMaria’s, Jasper’s, Uncle Dan’s, that have been here for a while. Guess Family was the newer place and Honky Tonk [Kid BBQ, now closed] was in there, as well. We just saw that we could add to this market, hopefully. We started in uptown at Pinewood and were there for a year and change, and then came out here because Valley Mills Vineyards was here. When we served here Saturday nights for their wine nights, we would do more business than we would in three days at Pinewood. We live in Crawford. It’s a lot closer for us. So Valley Mills [Vineyards] had reached out and said, “Hey, we’re giving up our lease to move out to our vineyard. Y’all should look into going into this place.” And it just all kind of fell into place that way. I mean, our success, it’s been a long journey. Our motto is “salt, pepper and a whole lot of prayer.” That’s very true to us. We almost closed our doors at the end of 2019. We were very close to closing our doors. Phil and I looked at each other. “We need to pray.” I’m not saying that’s everything, but it got us. It humbled us. We took a step back. Since then, we’ve been very consistent in that area of our life with this business. Even with [Wayne] at night, when we pray, “We thank you for our staff. Thank you for all that they bring to our table because we couldn’t do this without our staff. Thank you for every single person that chose to come and support us today because that is the reason we are here.” And I do credit that. That’s been a big part of our success, just standing strong in our faith, despite hardships that we have faced. We have worked a lot of hours. The first two years of [Wayne’s] life, we weren’t there a lot because we were working so much more or he was with us and it was just a lot of a blur. I’m in a much better place now with business where I get to be with him more, but still work because of our staff and perseverance [and] prayer.

WACOAN: How many folks do you have working here?

Helberg: Not including us, it’s about 28 or 29. We have a pretty large staff for how small this place may look.

WACOAN: Do you handle the business side of the restaurant?

Helberg: I do the admin work. I do our taxes, minus our yearly. I do monthly, quarterly. I do payroll. I do graphic design. I do web design. One thing I don’t do on the media end is social media. My husband does that, which he loves. That’s his thing. I’m glad about that. I’ll take photos when I can. And I schedule.

WACOAN: Does Phillip cook the meat?

Helberg: He used to. Now he will be here every day for lunch, basically, training people, helping train people and putting people in the right places. Right now, we’re training somebody to be our general manager, so he’s spending a lot of time with him. And then Phil will come home and we’ll talk about it, then we’ll brainstorm and I’ll bring more ideas to that. I tend to be, like in baseball terms, a utility player. If I need to hop on the block to cut, I will hop on the block. If I need to cater, I can go do catering. My catering manager called me yesterday and said, “Hey, March 25. You cannot be busy. I need you to do a catering.” I was like, “Got it. On my calendar now.” Phil manages the storefront itself and just checks in with staff [and] how everyone’s doing.

WACOAN: Where do y’all go to church?

Helberg: Harris Creek [Baptist Church], since December of 2018, right before we had [Wayne].

WACOAN: What are two things you cannot live without?

Helberg: My Bible because that keeps me grounded. And my bed. I love my bed. That’s my safe place. I like going home to that every night. Whenever we’re on vacation, I look forward to going home to my bed. It’s king-sized. We also have three dogs that sleep in our room at night. One of them sleeps on the bed and the other two sleep around our room, and they all shed a lot. We have one Sable German Shepherd, one German Labrador mutt and we have a Great Pyrenees. The mutt [sleeps on the bed]. He’s about 40 to 50 pounds, so he’s a little smaller. He sheds the least out of everybody. His name is Bogie, after Xander Bogaerts. He’s a baseball player. He was on the [Boston] Red Sox. My husband’s a Red Sox fan. I’m a [Los Angeles] Dodgers fan. Complete opposites.

WACOAN: Do y’all have problems with that?

Helberg: I did cry that one year in the [2018] World Series. I knew I was going to lose going in. I just knew I was going to lose. I told my husband, “I want one win out of this whole series.” And we won the 18-inning game that year, so I say I told myself I won two games. See it how you will. We joke that if we got through the World Series playing each other, we can get through anything together.

WACOAN: How long have you had your Bible?

Helberg: I actually just got a new one because I wanted something that I could study more with, so I found an English Standard Version Bible that has Greek in the back to look up the meaning behind certain words. Like the word love is used differently throughout the Bible, so being able to understand in this context, it’s used this way. It helps me just understand better what I’m reading. I’m wanting to be more intentional with that. But I also have my Bible from when we got married that has my name on it that I usually carry with me.

WACOAN: Do you mark up your Bible?

Helberg: I do. I’m huge into marking up my Bible. I also have a notebook. I have both. I’ll do little notations in my Bible, and then my notes in another notepad.

WACOAN: Tell me about your involvement with Isaiah 117 House.

Helberg: Yes. We have donated food to them. When CPS was having kids sleep on the floor, that was when we started to get more involved with bringing food. Isaiah 117 has also done stuff with Harris Creek. They’re very involved with each other, so it helped that our church was also already in there.

WACOAN: What’s the purpose of Isaiah House?

Helberg: It is essentially like a midway point for foster kids. When a kid gets pulled from a home, usually they go to the CPS office. It does not have beds, but they don’t know how long they may be there while the caseworker fills out files and fills out the report. The house is somewhere the caseworker could take the kid. There are volunteers there that can help the kids get changed, get them new clothes if they don’t have a lot of clothes, a backpack, [get them] fed and if need be, a [place] to stay. It’s very good for the child’s well-being at the end.

WACOAN: Are y’all foster parents?

Helberg: We are actually going to be starting that route this year. There’s a new nonprofit coming into Waco called Together for Good. If a single mom, as an example, that may be working two, three jobs and needs a weekend to clean her house, to get caught up on bills, we would step in and take the kid for the weekend. It would prevent them from getting put into foster care. Just kind of a temporary place for the kid to have a family and then go back. It’s strictly reunification. It’s not any way like foster to adopt. We may one day adopt. We have actively been talking about it. But where we’re at in our business right now, it would be too much for all the classes and everything we would need to do for training. It’s a lot of hours you have to put on the front end. Hopefully, if it’s in the cards for us, then we would adopt. But until then we plan on fostering in some capacity.

WACOAN: What is your favorite tattoo? 

Helberg: My most recent tattoo, sparrows, [is] a reminder that God cares about even the sparrows — that we all have value, we all have worth, even the smallest of things. We can find protection in him just like the birds found protection in the temple. I have two tattoos that I love. My “Star Wars” tattoo [that says I Love You]. This is from Episode Five. Princess Leia says, “I love you,” and Hans says, “I know.” And so right before we got married, we got those.

WACOAN: Does his say, “I Know”?

Helberg: Yes. It’s a fun joke. People will catch on if they know “Star Wars.” And then I have a pineapple on the back of my neck. We met in Hawaii and I love pineapples. Ever since I met him, I put a pineapple by his name in my phone because that’s where we met. So I got a pineapple tattooed on my neck on our honeymoon. And pineapples are a symbol of hospitality.

WACOAN: How many tattoos do you have?

Helberg: I have a bunch of small ones, so if you ask me by individual tattoo, I probably have about 10. But if you ask my husband, I have more like five because of the size of mine. He has bigger ones than I do.

WACOAN: What’s your favorite tattoo that he has, besides “I Know.”

Helberg: He has on his arm an armadillo holding a Topo Chico, and it says, “Just roll with it.” My husband has funny tattoos, and I think it’s one of the reasons I love them. Like his first tattoo he ever got was a beaver smoking a log. I could never do that personally. I think about what tattoos go on me. But I mean, it’s his personality and I love that, how fun his tattoos are. So I would probably say the armadillo. That’s not the most recent, but it’s a really good one.

WACOAN: Do you have plans for more tattoos?

Helberg: Yes. One of the ones I want is a torch with flames on it, meaning Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world,” and for us to be that as well and reflect him. We should be going to Israel at the end of the year, and the oldest tattoo shop in the world [Razzouk Tattoo, in business since 1300] is in Jerusalem. It’s 28th generation tattooing. Same family. They have stamps, so instead of tracing paper that they would put on you or whatever it may be, they have stamps, so they roll the stamp on you, and then they tattoo you with that stamp on you. And I think it is one of the coolest concepts, just the history of that. They specifically tattoo Christians at pilgrimage to the Holy Land. That’s what they do.

WACOAN: My daughter drew flowers on a birthday card for me in November, and I got that done as a tattoo.

Helberg: That’s awesome. I would totally do that with [Wayne] one day. My left arm is my more meaningful arm, and my right one will be my more fun arm. That’s what I’m telling myself. I want to get a tractor tattooed on me at some point because my dad is a farmer. And Wayne is obsessed with tractors. If he were to draw one for me, I would probably get it tattooed on me.

WACOAN: What else do I need to know, about tattoos or anything else?

Helberg: Good question. With the restaurant, we wouldn’t be what we are without our staff. And that’s so important as an owner, to know and remember, because they are who do the day-to-day operations. I may do behind the scenes. My husband may be here overseeing and watching, but none of what we do would be possible if it wasn’t for them.

WACOAN: What’s your favorite item on the menu?

Helberg: Our chicken. It’s extremely juicy. We smoke it and then we flash fry it to get the skin crispy. There’s no buttermilk, no flour or anything. It is just crispy skin. I love that. And the turkey I’ve grown quite fond of. I just love how juicy the turkey is. It’s a leaner meat compared to brisket, so it’s not as heavy, which is nice. The corn is my favorite side, topped with extra cotija cheese.