Barbecue is a legend unto itself in the Mississippi Delta region. Southerners, especially, take barbecue very seriously. Yet barbecue is subjective – so many aspects come into play, especially they style of barbecue you grew up eating. For Harold Jones of Marianna, it’s as much a part of his life as breathing.
Jones Barbecue has been a part of the food culture in the Arkansas Delta for more than a century. The Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization “dedicated to the documentation and celebration of the diverse food cultures of the American South,” believes Jones Barbecue to be the oldest African-American owned restaurants in the South and possibly the nation. James Harold Jones, the current owner and pitmaster, says it started with his grandfather’s Uncle Joe. His grandfather and father followed Uncle Joe into the smoking business, selling barbecue out of their homes. It was Jones’s father Hubert that started the diner in 1964. Jones started working in the restaurant when he was 14. He told me the only time his father would let him skip school “was when I was working in the diner.”
On March 13, 2012, the James Beard Foundation designated Jones Bar-B-Q Diner as an America’s Classic. The organization defines America’s Classics as “restaurants with timeless appeal and that are beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.” It’s one of five restaurants throughout America to receive the honor this year. To be chosen and designated as an America’s Classic, the restaurant must be locally owned and in existence for at least 10 years.
At Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, the menu is simple and straightforward. You can get sandwiches, on white bread, with or without the homemade slaw or you can buy the meat by the pound. That’s pretty much it. You can buy a cold canned drink and a bag of chips to complete your meal, but you won’t find beans or fries or any other food. It’s usually a one-man operation at the diner, and Jones said it’s best to just keep it simple. He did tell me that he used to do barbecued bologna sandwiches, but it got too time-consuming…everyone wanted something different on their sandwich. So he decided to go back to the basics. The customers must not mind, because they’re still flocking to Jones’s every day it’s open. So many loyal patrons that Jones estimates on a regular week, he cooks 900 pounds of pork. On holidays such as Memorial Day and Fourth of July, that number skyrockets. Customers are fiercely loyal.
This Business Supports “Minority Economic Development”