The Craft of Birria

Birria Boys—built around delicious birria—is a hit in Elk Grove, California.

October 02, 2023

By Al Hebert

Chris Cornelis has a passion for food—good food. “When I was younger, I worked in the food industry, and it wasn’t paying enough. I worked at ritzy restaurants. I lost hope, gave up, and left the business. But it is my passion,” he said.

Oftentimes people who cut their teeth in the food industry and step away will find their way back. Cornelis felt that pull to return to the kitchen, and when he did he tried something different.

“I started a food truck with my brother. It got popular fast! We had long lines, and when I say long, it stretched for a block,” he said. “We’d sell out in two hours and people would get upset. I couldn’t keep up with the demand. We knew we needed a brick-and-mortar location. Even now, we have long lines and run out of food.”

Unlike south Louisiana or Texas, gas station food is not that common in northern California. Cornelis, however, saw the potential at a local Shell station.

Inside the store, there was a kitchen space and window for a QSR sandwich shop that failed. The space sat empty for 15 years. “They were using it for storage. I talked to the owner about taking over the space, and he was all for it. We came in and started operating Birria Boys in July of 2022. We brought life to it,” said Cornelis.

Birria Boys sells the food and the c-store sells the drinks. It’s a good partnership that’s bringing a lot of foot traffic inside the store.

What makes Birria Boys so popular? First, it’s the birria. Cornelis explained, “Birria is beef short rib seasoned with 20 spices. We cook it for nine hours and it takes about an hour and a half of prep prior to cooking. By the time it’s done, there’s no bone or cartilage and it’s shredded on a taco. We have 100% success rate on no bone and no cartilage. That’s how tedious the process is and how we pay attention to detail,” he said, adding, “It’s a craft, and at the end of the day, the craft needs to be performed well. It really is our signature food.”

This article originally appeared in the Gas Station Gourmet column of the October 2023 issue of NACS Magazine. Read the remainder of the article in the digital PDF version of the October issue.

Al Hebert is the Gas Station Gourmet, showcasing America’s hidden culinary treasures. Find him at