Fire Damages Jones’ Bar-B-Q, a Historic Black-Owned Business


Rodney Scott, the James Beard award-winning chef and pitmaster from South Carolina, called Mr. Jones’s son, James Jr., to offer advice on how to rebuild a safer, wood-fire barbecue restaurant. The Scott family’s original restaurant, in Hemingway, S.C., was badly damaged by a fire in 2013, and the pit at Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, in Charleston, suffered fire damage in 2018.

“You just got to make things more noncombustible, with metal and fire-resistant doors,” Mr. Scott said. “These are things we mom-and-pop places don’t normally think about.”

Mr. Jones, known locally as Mr. Harold, said his restaurant was started by his grandfather, Walter Jones, and that it dates to 1910. He works mostly alone at the two-table restaurant, although he has needed more seasonal and weekend help from James Jr. and his wife, Betty, since 2012, when Jones Bar-B-Q was named an America’s Classic by the James Beard Foundation.


“Once we got that award, we was nationwide,” James Jr. said.


Adrian Miller, author of the book “Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue,” due out next month, said the restaurant’s pulled pork in a vinegar-and-tomato based sauce is similar to the style found in western Tennessee. Marianna is about 60 miles southwest of Memphis.

The restaurant is culturally significant, Mr. Miller said, because there are fewer pitmasters who smoke their meat over live fire alone, as Mr. Jones does, and because of its longevity.

“Black entrepreneurs have always had hurdles put in their way that make it really hard for them to survive,” Mr. Miller said. “So to have this place that’s been around for over 100 years is really extraordinary.”

Mr. Jones said he has no plans to retire. James Jr., 46, a coach and teacher, said that one of his uncles will likely take over Jones’ Bar-B-Q whenever his father steps away.


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