A look at Jones Bar-B-Q, the oldest black-owned restaurant in America

Ama Nunoo February 08, 2020
James Jones, Photo: Blackbusiness

One would think the oldest black-owned restaurant would have a big seating capacity and a fancy menu, on the contrary, the longevity of the restaurant is based on one dish only.

Jones Bar-B-Q in Marina Arkansas is believed to the oldest black-owned restaurant and business in America.

Photo: atlasobscura.com

The Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization “dedicated to the documentation and celebration of the diverse food cultures of the American South,” believes Jones’ to be the oldest African American owned restaurant in the South and possibly the nation. The diner is said to have started operations in 1910.

Now it is run by James Jones and his wife Betty, they live just above the diner. James said he started working at the diner at age 14.

Walter Jones, James’ grandfather started the family business as its first pitmaster. It moved to James’ father, Hubert Jones then now to him.

It started operations with just “a hole in the ground, some iron pipes and a piece of fence wire and two pieces of tin,” according to Hubert Jones.

Photo: atlasobscura.com

Hubert then expanded it to a two-table restaurant at its current location in 1964.

What makes Jones Bar-B-Q unique is, it still sticks to its roots although it has been around spanning over a century.

The diner serves one dish and one dish only, pork shoulder with the family’s secret barbecue sauce.

Visitors can either buy the meat by the pound or it can be had as a sandwich. Jones dresses the pork with slightly sweet vinegar sauce and serves it between white bread with the homemade slaw.

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner
Photo: Twitter

The diners “know when Jones has meat on the pit because the aroma of smoked pork penetrates the air.” 

The place opens from about 7am, six days in a week and closes when the last meat is sold. It can be as early as 10am. The pork sits on the smoker for a good 12 hours and meat is smoked all the time.

In a week, Jones sells averagely 900 pounds of pork and on special days or holidays like Fourth of July or Memorial Day, the number of pounds could double because of high patronage.

The simple and straightforward menu didn’t stop the diner from receiving an award from the James Beard Foundation, the ‘Oscars’ of the food industry.

Photo: atlasobscura.com

In 2012, the James Beard Foundation voted Jones’ Bar-B-Q Diner as an America’s Classic. The outfit defines America’s Classics as “restaurants with timeless appeal and that are beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.” 

Jones Bar-B-Q is unique and it is the most acclaimed diner in Arkansas close to the Mississippi River. It continues to be the pride and beacon of the community.


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