5 Star Stories: Jones’ BBQ in Marianna, Arkansas named NYT America’s Favorite Restaurants list

Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 11:49 PM CDT
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MARIANNA, Ark. (WMC) -Jones Bar-B-Q Diner has literally gone through the fire and back again, and is now getting the attention of the New York Times.

Past fields of cotton, a few blocks from the town square in Marianna, Arkansas sits an unassuming eatery with a delicious history that began in 1910.

“My grandaddy’s uncle, they called him Uncle Joe, and he’s the one that started everything, and it stemmed from him,” said James H. Jones, owner and operator of Jones’ BBQ.

Jones is the current owner and operator of this humble establishment. He’s known as Harold to some.

Whatever they call me, I answer to either way,” he said.

Jones is the third generation of his family to run Jones’ BBQ, which is one of the oldest continuously operated black-owned businesses in the country.

Diners come from around the world to taste Jones’ barbecue.

”I had people to come here from Germany, England, France. The furthest away I had two people to come from Yemen. The Bahamas, you name it. Because see what we do, I have them to sign that sheet in there,” Jones said.

Not even COVID’s restaurant-killing nature could hurt this barbecue business.

”We never did miss a beat because we were open every day,” said Jones.

Jones’ recipe is simple -- award-winning pulled pork by the pound or in sandwich form -- and worthy of a coveted James Beard Award. It’s the first Arkansas restaurant to do so back in 2012.

”They just come in and said they were going to all the barbeque places in the south, and this was one of their stops. So, they sit down and ate, then about two months after they left, we got a call saying we had won the James Beard Award,” Jones said.

Jones slowly roasts his “money muscles” or pork butt and shoulders over hickory, oak, and pecan wood coals and smoke starting early in the morning.

”Well, I usually cook 9 to 10 shoulders. I cook about four times a week. Now, I got 10 on this morning on the grill outside. What I did, I put it on yesterday about 2 o’clock. Then, I got back up at 2 o’clock the next morning and cut it up and brought it in here,” explained Jones.

One February morning, just this year, the business almost went up in smoke, literally.

”I had six Boston butts on the grill. I fired it up, then I come in here for a few minutes, then I went back out there. It was burning then and wasn’t no stopping it. And it went up like, just like paper,” recalled Jones.

The then wooden back half of the diner where the magic happens was destroyed.

It burned everything on the back, up to that door,” said Jones.

The diner was down but far from out thanks to fans and friends, alike.

”That’s the main reason we got back together so fast, because the very day that it burned, not next day, the very day, the money started coming in. One lady, we call her Mimi, she brought me a check for $60,000.) Alright, the lady that’s going to be running for governor, she brought me a check for $10,000.

The community raised roughly $100,000 for the diner.

”Now, now, look, that surprised me. Kind of knocked me off my feet,” Jones said.

Jones opened the newly renovated diner and pit area by Memorial Day.

”Them folks didn’t want me to stay. No. They helped me right quick. And put me right back on my feet. Yep,” Jones said.

It was just in time to land a spot on the New York Times’ list of America’s Favorite Restaurants for 2021.

Jones hopes his son will carry on the family tradition.

”I got 60 years in here,” he said.

But retirement is not in this pitmaster’s plans anytime soon.

“No.,” said Jones. “I’m not thinking about that.”

Although Jones BBQ doesn’t sell ribs, chicken, or beef, Jones said he will cook it for you if you bring it to him. The business is also cash or checks only.

If you want to make sure you make it to the diner in time to get your hands on some barbecue, you can always call ahead.

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