Jon Mansmith delights attendees at Historical Society with San Juan Bautista stories

Jon Mansmith, founder of Mansmith's BBQ Sauce and Gourmet Spices, recalls simpler, happier time, growing up in San Juan Bautista

Life in San Juan Bautista in the 1950s and early 1960s was simpler and a lot more fun, long-time resident and businessman Jon Mansmith says.

Mansmith shared his stories Saturday at the monthly meeting of the San Juan Bautista Historial Society at Dona Ester’s Restaurant. He delighted about 40 people at the event with his recollections.

The founder of Mansmith’s BBQ Sauce and Gourmet Spices, Mansmith, 73, remembered days of hunting, driving without a driver’s license at age 13 and having a lot of fun with friends.

“It was just a different time,” he said. “It wasn’t so strict. It was just laid back . … Nobody was so damned by the book. … I drove the (city of San Juan Bautista) police car two or three years before I had a driver’s license, blowing the siren,” Mansmith recalled.

Born in Minnesota in 1944, Mansmith moved to Pasadena with his family when he was age 5. He was the third of three children, whom he later discovered were his half brother and half sister. He remembers riding a city bus to school.

His father, who had been a cook in the military, moved the family to Gilroy in 1957. He bought a Culligan soft water franchise, and later founded Mission Hardware in San Juan Bautista.

“He was always just bouncing around from one thing to another,” Mansmith said of his father.

Mission Hardware, as Mansmith described it, was like a small department store.
“A store back then had everything,” he said.

That included kegs of nails, chickens, guns, sports equipment, baby furniture and linoleum. “It was Home Depot all rolled into one,” Mansmith said.

Most of his friends back then, he said, were grown men who were store patrons and invited him on outings. Those included visiting the bull sale at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and hunting in the back country of San Benito County.

As a youngster, Mansmith said, he learned how to do many jobs. He helped his father plumb houses for softwater. He made deliveries in the hardware store pickup truck before he had a driver’s license. And he helped out men who came into the store looking for a hand.

One of them was a man who was doing quicksilver mining for another man in the New Idria area. He needed help driving mining supplies to the area. So Mansmith drove a truck full of dynamite while the man drove another vehicle with the blasting caps. Mansmith helped the man drill holes in the mine, fill them with dynamite and do the blasting.

In 1963 Mansmith graduated from High School in Hollister. While attending Gavilan College there, he met his wife Juanita. He wanted to marry her, but his parents wouldn’t sign off on it, because he wasn’t 21 and he hadn’t made $10,000.

So he set out looking for jobs. He found one at McCormick Selph Inc. as a chemist. Then the company, now known as Teledyne McCormick Self, was located at the Hollister Airport. When the chemistry lab was shut down, Mansmith moved all the equipment to his San Juan Bautista Home, storing it in an old chicken house.

That all led to his forming a water testing company, Mission Laboratory. Eventually, he hired a man to help him with the company. “He did all the work and I was the secretary,” Mansmith said.

Later, he sold the company to the man, and Mansmith retired at age 40. For several years he and his wife traveled the country in their motorhome. A couple of years later the Mansmith BBQ Sauce and Gourmet Spices business began to sprout.

At the Fiesta Rodeo De San Juan Bautista he took on the job of making seasonings for the barbecue. They consisted of salt, pepper, oregano and "salt, salt, salt," he said.

Later, he worked at the Hollister Young Farmers pork chop barbecue at the Hollister Elks Club. One year somebody forgot to bring the barbecue sauce. So, Mansmith said, he went into the Elks Club’s kitchen and “Mixed up goop.”

Afterward, people told his wife they wanted to buy the sauce it was so good.

“I had to try to remember what I had put in it,” Mansmith said.

He went to the store, bought ingredients and put them in a large pot on his kitchen stove. “I thinned it with whatever we could think of,” he said. The result was Mansmith BBQ products, originally called Jake’s.

Labels were created for the products and Mansmith and Juanita loaded their RV with the products and sold them around the United States. “It was more challenging than what you can believe,” he said.

After a cease and desist order from attornies for Jake’s Barbecue Sauce and Seasonings Co., Mansmith changed the products’ name to Mansmith’s BBQ Sauce and Gourmet Spices.

The Mansmiths worked hard barbecuing at events and hawking their products. They sold at the Hollister Farmers Market in the open air until the county health department demanded they obtain a permit and sell out of a booth.

They got the permit, and Mansmith built a booth. It was 3-feet x 3-feet, not much bigger than a telephone booth. That didn’t go over well with the health department.

“You didn’t say how big it had to be,” Mansmith recalled telling health officials. So he built a bigger one.

Eventually, the company began selling its products on food shows in San Francisco and online ( The company is now operated by the Mansmith’s son Mike.

Mansmith and Juanita have planted Merlot grape vines on their Mission Vineyard Road property, a road that has not had vineyards since the early 1900s. They have been married for 51 years.

“Behind every successful man is a wonderful woman,” Mansmith said.

Thomas Leyde