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An Axiom Kitchen Smoked Meats & BBQ pop-up typically looks something like this: Hunks of smoked beef ribs, thickly sliced brisket, and strips of tri-tip get slathered in herbed clarified butter before hitting a scorching-hot flat top for a finishing sear. Qiana and Ian Mafnas, the Black and Chamorro wife-and-husband team behind the Long Beach pop-up, rotate between helping patrons, leading service calls, and packaging to-go trays; the family unit is a well-oiled assembly line. Son Tai always has a spatula in hand, and daughter Dominique and younger son Robbie assemble platters. Ian mans the grill and Qiana handles the money and orders. Together they run a smooth operation, turning out some of the most interesting takes on Texas-style barbecue anywhere in Los Angeles County.

That wasn’t always the case for the Mafnases. Before Qiana and Ian found stability in a life of smoke and meat, they met more than a decade ago as addicts. “We knew the time wasn’t right and that we weren’t treating ourselves right — even though he’s been trying to marry me for a decade,” Qiana says with a laugh, noting the pair finally married last year. “So we had to separate to work on ourselves. When we became sober, we realized we had both entered into social services, working to help other people through their trauma.”

Reconnecting led them to seek a new path for themselves and their eight children, some of whom came from the foster system (another son, Noah, passed away in 2018 at the age of 18). Qiana has been in and out of the food industry since the age of 15, working everywhere from In-N-Out and Tender Greens to Musso & Frank’s and the now-shuttered Dialogue. The comfort with which she slid between food jobs led her to be comfortable with the idea of starting her own food business. Ian, meanwhile, fell headfirst into food with little experience: Tasting Texan-style smoked brisket for the first time in 2020, he began experimenting on his own.

Photos and written by Brian Addison.

For Brian Addison's full profile on Axiom Kitchen

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