Why We Couldn’t Retire in Ecuador

When Gary and Kathryn Kelly, both in their 50s, moved to Ecuador from Sargent, Texas, in 2011, they expected this would be where they spent their retirement years.

They bought a house at Punta Carnero Beach, about 10 minutes’ drive from the popular Ecuador beach resort town of Salinas, and began refurbishing it. When it was finished, Kathryn had an extraordinary kitchen where she could bake the cinnamon rolls, cheesecake, and the other goodies her friends loved.

And Gary had a huge terrace with a view of the ocean where he could barbecue. He spent many happy hours on the terrace in pursuit of his beloved hobby: stoking a fire and creating the ultimate carnivore’s delight.

And then an idea began to simmer. There was no place in the Salinas area where you could get a perfectly cooked rib eye or a slab of tender smoked ribs…or even a really thick, juicy burger. And forget about chicken fried steak…or chili…or baked beans…or potato salad. Or a decent piece of cheesecake, for that matter.

Gary thought that if only they could taste it, Ecuadorians would love this home-cooked American goodness. And certainly the growing number of expats settling in the area would be homesick for some good old-fashioned Texas barbecue.

As luck would have it, the perfect location for a restaurant was available at a reasonable monthly rent on the busiest stretch of malecon (beachfront road) in the heart of Salinas.

But first, the existing space had to be gutted and remodeled. For four weeks Gary and Kathryn oversaw the work of dozens of carpenters, concrete workers, electricians, and plumbers who pulled down existing walls, built a bar and benches, rehabbed the bathroom, laid a slate tile floor, painted, and fully outfitted the kitchen space.

Gary had two new, super-deluxe, huge-capacity smokers built and installed in the open area behind the restaurant. Together, he and Kathryn created the menu and experimented with recipes that they tried out on friends.

On July 16, 2013, Smokin BBQ officially opened for business. “Local expats took to it right away,” Gary says, “and we’ve had a consistent crowd of them from the beginning.” For Ecuadorians who aren’t as familiar with Texas barbecue and all the trappings, Gary and Kathryn have been offering samples.

“We have some very good staff,” Gary says. “And that’s key to making this business work. We have some really great wait staff and kitchen help, and we’re training a new chef.”

One of the big advantages to starting this business in a place like Ecuador, Gary says, is the lower start-up costs and lower salary outputs. “I expect to recoup my costs by May,” he says. That’s less than a year after opening the business.

Will Gary and Kathryn ever retire? “Well, we’d like to…someday,” Gary says. But he’s trademarked the name of the restaurant in anticipation of franchising to other areas of the country.

“Retirement?” laughs Kathryn. “That’s apparently what other people our age do.”

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