PHOENIX - Mark Nichols never envisioned himself working in the kitchen.
When it came to restaurant jobs, he preferred to be on the floor greeting and interacting with guests. He worked as a waiter, bartender, and general manager for a few restaurants around town.
He also wanted to understand better how the kitchen operated, because at some point in the future, he wanted to open a restaurant. So, he enrolled at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute.
"I ended up being pretty good at it," said Mark, almost surprised.
His wife, Colette, added, "He never left the kitchen after that."
The husband-wife duo met while both working at a restaurant, and married in 2010. They launched a catering business and now have opened a barbecue restaurant together -- Arizona BBQ Company.
It's tucked away within a shopping center at the corner of Ray Road and Val Vista Drive in Gilbert, behind Discount Tire.
While neither are from Arizona -- Mark is from California and Colette from Michigan -- they want to help define what "Arizona barbecue" means.
"We want to put Arizona barbecue on the map," said Colete.
All of their meats are rubbed with spices, smoked, and served "naked," or without sauce. They have a self-serve station with five house-made sauces: chipotle, habanero, sweet and tangy, mustard, and green chili.
Meats include pulled pork, brisket, St. Louis-style ribs, and smoked chicken.
Potato salad is replaced with southwest slaw, chili-lime roasted corn, ranchero beans, or green chili mac and cheese, to focus on southwestern-inspired flavors.
"Food at its simplest is at its best," said Mark.
Guests place their orders at the counter and receive a numbered placard. When the order is ready, the kitchen staff will call out the number from a pick-up window in the center of the restaurant.
Half-pound sandwiches range from $9 to $11, and meat platters are $11 to $22. Tacos are $3.25.