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Restaurants & Bars

Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que Juneteenth Shoebox Lunch Is a History Lesson

Some of the proceeds from the food special, which runs June 19 through July 4, will support businesses owned by women and people of color.
J McClure Photography

From Memorial Day to the Fourth of July, barbecue is a staple of summer holidays, and Juneteenth is no exception. From June 19 to July 4, the Black-owned family business Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que will offer a special edition “Color without Consequence” shoebox lunch to celebrate Juneteenth and support those fighting for racial equality.

“Now, in light of what’s going on, we’re making a call for others to stand up and recognize Black lives matter,” Smokey John’s co-owner Juan Reaves said. “All lives matter, but right now, Black lives are under assault. And so we’re trying to say that we support that movement, and we hope that at some point we can move to a place where we can see color without consequence.”

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union general Gordon Granger announced a federal order to the people of Galveston, freeing formerly enslaved people. While the Emancipation Proclamation had been in effect for over two years at that point, news traveled slowly—and the Confederacy wasn’t rushing to relinquish power anyway.

Of course, Black Americans still faced relentless discrimination. Some orders prohibiting the use of public property for celebration led people to purchase private land for Juneteenth festivities. Several parks in Texas including Emancipation Park in Houston, Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia and Emancipation Park in Austin trace their roots back to these celebrations. In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. It is not yet recognized as a national holiday.

Shoebox lunches like the special at Smokey John’s harken back to the state-sanctioned discrimination that existed during the Jim Crow era.

At the time, travel imposed an extra risk of danger for Black Americans. Guides like Victor Green’s The Negro Travelers Green Book allowed Black travelers to find businesses where they could receive service, but it wasn’t always possible to find these safe havens. In order to minimize risk, women often packed premade meals in unassuming shoeboxes that could be transported easily.

“Our thought was to be able to pair the fact that the shoebox represented those injustices and to actually bring that back as a symbol of the injustices that we’re still experiencing here in 2020,” Smokey John’s co-owner Brent Reaves said.

In February, the restaurant debuted the shoebox lunch special for Black History Month, featuring traditional items that traveled well such as sweet potato pie and pound cake. This time, the Reaves describe the special as a “modern twist” with a barbecue sandwich (choice of ham, turkey, chicken, sausage, or brisket), two sides and a cookie.

At $12.50 a box, 10 percent of the profits will go towards Impact Ventures, a nonprofit organization in North Texas supporting businesses owned by women and people of color.

Since Smokey John’s is not yet offering dine-in services, the shoeboxes also serve as a convenient pickup option. Each box features packaging that talks about the values the Reaves brothers’ parents instilled in them and addresses the need for change.

“There’s a common bond in food that hopefully lowers the defense mechanisms that people use,” Brent Reaves said. “If you can sit down with a meal, maybe you’re at a point to be able to hear something. Maybe something can get into your spirit easier. With this message, we’re hoping that people can break bread with each other [and] read this message.”


Abby Blasingame

Abby Blasingame