BAKER -- In this Mojave Desert stopover halfway between Barstow and Las Vegas, Luis Ramallo has carved out a niche in the bustling billion-dollar-a-year beef jerky industry with his Alien Fresh Jerky market.

In the last decade, he has grown his extraterrestrial-themed business from an 800-square-foot store selling beef jerky, pistachios and candy to a 5,000-square-foot concrete and stucco box housing more than 2,000 products, most of them carrying Ramallo's Alien Fresh Jerky brand with signature logo: a green alien face ringed in red.

But Ramallo, who started his thriving business with credit cards and $70,000 in the red in 2002, has even higher aspirations, and they've got this town of a little more than 700 people buzzing.

Parked outside Ramallo's store are an "interplanetary taxi cab" with two animatronic aliens planted in the front seat and a silver flying saucer surrounded by green plywood aliens. Alien figures clad in cowboy hats and scarves sit perched atop the roof or on shelves at the store's entrance, greeting the many customers who pass through its doors daily.

There's more to come, just wait, Ramallo said.

He is building a three-story, 31-room UFO-shaped hotel - the UFO Hotel - next to his market. It will feature an alien-themed gift shop, museum and swimming pool.

San Bernardino County's Board of Supervisors signed off on the project and gave Ramallo the green light to proceed with construction at its March 25 meeting.


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Ramallo will begin construction on his $30 million hotel this summer, which is expected to take two years. His Alien Fresh Jerky market will be getting a makeover so it is uniform with the hotel, and will resemble an alien transporter vehicle when complete. Office and storage buildings that will also be built on Ramallo's 7-acre property will resemble alien space stations.

A grand opening is set for summer 2016.

Ramallo will offer affordable tours of his theme-park style hotel, which will feature space ship corridors, a flight deck and alien sleeping chambers, among other attractions. Visitors will be greeted at the door by an animatronic alien.

"I think it will be a good attraction that will blow people's minds," said Ramallo, 56, who divides his time between homes in Baker and Las Vegas.

While hotel tours will be affordable to the average traveler, an overnight stay will not be for those living on fixed budgets.

"This is not economy. This is for high-rollers," said Ramallo, sitting in his office on a recent weekday afternoon, pouring through the colorful illustrations bound in a booklet and comprising the concept plan for Ramallo's hotel.

Ramallo said he wants his hotel to have a room theme concept like the landmark Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, where people with creative and adventurous spirits plan special getaways.

"We are creating a new destination for people who like the desert, for people who like the outdoors, for people who like the alien theme," said Ramallo, who along with his wife and grown children - Susana, Eliana, Sheena and Martin - run the family business. His youngest son, Lucas, is still in high school.

At 2 1/2 square miles and a population of a little more than 700, Baker has taken an economic beating in the last last five years. Starbucks, the Chinese restaurant across from Ramallo's business, Bob's Big Boy, Pike's Restaurant and the community's two mainstay attractions -- the 134-foot-tall thermometer and the Bun Boy restaurant -- all went dark after years of declining revenue loss and financial strain.

"There were so many changes in the town. People just weren't stopping anymore," said Diana Romo of the Baker Community Services District.

Ramallo isn't the only one who hopes to turn Baker's economic climate around with his UFO Hotel. The original owners of the world's tallest thermometer, which fell into disrepair over the years, reclaimed it during a foreclosure auction in March. They are repainting it to its original red and white luster and will relight it some time over the summer. In addition, the family is opening a gift shop in the vacant building that sits on the property where the thermometer is located.

Baker businessman Willis Herron had the $700,000 thermometer built in 1991 next to his Bun Boy restaurant as a mechanism to draw motorists from the freeway to his restaurant. It didn't take long before it became a national landmark.

"I think (Ramallo) and my dad would have gotten along great," said Herron's daughter, LaRae Harguess, a counselor at Oak Hills High School in Hesperia who grew up in Baker. "Who ever heard of a 134-foot thermometer and a 3-story alien hotel? You've got to hand it to them for creativity."

Ramallo, a master electrician from Las Vegas who moved with his family to the U.S. from Argentina in 1988 in pursuit of the American Dream, began selling beef jerky in 2001 as a way to supplement his income. He set up a roadside stand 50 miles east of Nevada's Area 51, where highways 93 and 318 connect.

On his first day selling jerky, Ramallo raked in $800. He continued for four months, until police confronted him one day, asked to see his green card and work permits, and drove him off.

Ramallo purchased his property in Baker in 2002 and opened Alien Fresh Jerky. Two years later, he quit electrical work and took up beef jerky full time.

Ramallo, who employs six people, excluding family members, said his hotel will create 70 new jobs.

And his vision never ceases.

Once his hotel project is complete, Ramallo's next business venture is the Alien Colony, an alien-themed shopping center with first-class restaurant.

Ramallo's success has afforded him certain luxuries. Last February, he completed construction of his 6,000 square-foot Mediterranean-style family home, which sits between his Alien Jerky market and the 6-acre lot where he will build his hotel.

"I've found a haven here," Ramallo said. "It's like a jewel in the desert,"