A black-owned staple in Dallas, the brothers are ushering in a new era of barbecue cuisine while continuing the legacy of their father, who started the business back in 1976.
A serial entrepreneur, “Smokey” John Reaves was a well-respected man in the community who owned a plethora of businesses throughout the Dallas area. At one point, he ran roofing, construction, mortgage banking, and insurance companies simultaneously, and his kind, helpful demeanor made him a face the locals looked forward to seeing.
“Our dad was a classic entrepreneur in that he never met a stranger. He became very well-known in the community, both in the minority community but also in the general community,” Juan said.
To show his gratitude to his clients, Smokey would give out homemade smoked turkeys and hams during the holiday season. But these were no ordinary smoked meats. Seasoned and smoked to perfection, clients and family friends started requesting Smokey’s signature smoked dishes year-round. At one point, the brothers recall storing over 100 turkeys and hams in the Reaves home for hungry friends who loved Smokey’s barbecue.
“A friend of his came over and said, ‘Man, you need to open a restaurant. You’re out of control,’ and he thought it was a good idea, so that’s where he got the idea to jump into the restaurant business,” Brent said.
For the last 46 years, Smokey John’s BBQ has bridged the gap between communities in Dallas. Dedicated to uplifting those around them while providing superior food and customer service, the restaurant is a neighborhood fixture, making an impact on locals and visitors from around the country.
“To know that it has this legacy of giving back and being a fixture in the community and the fact we get to continue that is very rewarding,” Juan said.
Although they have worked in the restaurant their entire lives, Juan and Brent both explored other career options before returning to Dallas. They officially took over the family business in 2013.
“In the back of my mind, I always thought I’d work for the restaurant,” Juan said. “I just thought we would slide into a corporate environment, and maybe I’d work for the marketing person and eventually work my way up to the top of the company. I didn’t realize we were going to end up building it.”
When “Smokey” John Reaves passed away in 2019, the brothers dedicated themselves to continue building upon the foundation their father built. And when A&E began working with Texas State Fair to curate a show around the food industry, the restaurant was selected as one of eight participants competing each week on Deep Fried Dynasty.
“It was just a really cool opportunity to be able to be involved, and I think this was probably one of the biggest television opportunities for the fair to really showcase what all the fair does and what all the vendors go through to prepare for the fair as well as all the different trials and struggles that we deal with during the fair as well,” Brent said.
The new show challenges each vendor to meet a weekly monetary goal during the fair every episode. Participants must overcome personal challenges, equipment malfunctions, and servicing customers while working as a team to meet their goals.
“We set a goal for the beginning of the State Fair year and what they’re going to do is track and see how you’re meeting your goal,” Brent said. “At the end of the show and at the end of every episode, the vendors are going in and doing a weigh-in to see how much money they’ve accumulated that day.”
Since the premiere, the restaurant has experienced a spike in their online rub and barbecue sauce sales, and folks have been coming in each day after seeing them on the show. For the next seven weeks, Smokey John’s will go head-to-head against the other competitors on A&E. The brothers said being on the show was confirmation that their restaurant was a jewel in the Texas barbecue crown.
“People in Texas know what they’re doing,” Juan said. “We’ve traveled to other regions and people have checked us out and there are two things you know you can get good in Texas and that’s good Tex-Mex and good barbecue. You travel to the East Coast or the West Coast, and they don’t really understand what those experiences are like until they get to Texas. So we’re happy to be amongst some of the best barbecuers in the country.”
With future plans for expansion and growth for their team, Brent and Juan are using the momentum from the show to move forward into a new era of second-generation ownership that is progressive and fresh while paying homage to the brand their father established. They also believe in supporting their team members and hope to create a work environment that is reassuring and uplifting for them as they elevate in the company.
“Our team members need opportunity, and they need to grow,” Brent said. “So for that reason, growing the company would also complete the work that dad started 40 something years ago. But it would also create opportunities and better lifestyles for our team members.”
Smokey John’s prides itself on being a resource in the Dallas community and provides job opportunities to ex-offenders and others who find difficulty gaining employment. For the brothers, growing and expanding the restaurant means being able to impact the lives of every person attached to the brand, from the cooks to the hostess.
“We believe God has blessed us and given us grace to get second chances and second opportunities, so we extend that same grace to people who sometimes reject it or don’t think about it anymore,” Brent said. “We think that if we can create opportunities for these guys and our team members who may have been rejected in other places, we can create growth and change for them and expand their lives. Then not only have we impacted the restaurant industry, but we’ve also impacted the community at that point.”
Driven by the vision their father instilled in them, Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que is in good hands under Brent and Juan’s direction. Through exposure from the show, the restaurant brand is rising to greater heights as one of the best barbecue joints in Texas, and the momentum will continue to build as they continue on a rich legacy rooted in kindness and giving back to others.
“What we have brought to the table is being very intentional about what dad did instinctively,” Juan said. “That was just his nature, to be giving and helpful. And we’ve continued that by being intentional about it and knowing we’re really going to honor him by giving people opportunities.”