To properly sum up the career of David O. Jones — better known as “Big Dave” by barbecue lovers across the South — would require far more space than a simple news article can allow.
But given Jones’ lifelong affiliation with professional sports, consider this a highlight reel.
For more than 25 years, Jones has been serving his barbecue to people from all walks of life and in all different settings. His fans include professional athletes like Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys, pro football coaches like Barry Switzer of the Cowboys and Dan Reeves of the Atlanta Falcons, presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
He’s gone from operating three successful restaurants in Dallas, Texas to serving out of a gas station in Greenville, South Carolina to operating a food truck on Anderson Road. He’s been flush and he’s been broke. He’s been up and he’s been down. He has, in his own words, “been humbled, worked the grind, put in some brutal hours along the way.”
After all those years in the game, figuratively-speaking, Jones is finally ready to pivot from player to coach as he launches his new Greenville-based venture, Big Dave’s All-American BBQ Sauces.
Jones’ idea to bottle and sell his classic barbecue sauces nationwide was not to cash in on his recipes, he said.
Instead, the motivation had everything to do with his son, DJ Jones, who plays defensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers.
“It never stops being surreal to us, watching my son run out there on the field,” Jones said. “But the thing about DJ is, just as much as he’s passionate about football, he’s always had a passion for working with kids.”
That passion led to the creation of the DJ Jones Foundation, which strives to use DJ’s platform in the NFL to organize football camps, food and toy drives, and mentoring programs for local kids.
But those programs cost money, which got Jones thinking about his old sauce recipes, once again.
“I was just trying to figure out a way to grow the foundation, and the more funding we had, the more programs we could do,” Jones said. “I realized if we used my sauces and bottled them, we could create a sports memorabilia label and put DJ’s face on every bottle.”
The idea to combine Jones’ lifelong success in the barbecue pits and his son DJ’s success on the football field was unique enough to catch the attention of fellow NFL player Solomon Thomas, who plays defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders. For years, Thomas has been engaged in social work of his own, trying to erase stigmas around mental health and the importance of reaching out for help.
He asked if he could join their team.
“And that’s what it’s all about, partnering and coming together to build something,” Jones said.
Now, Big Dave’s All American BBQ sauces will have two starting NFL players on its bottles, combining the dual efforts of mentorship and mental health advocacy with recipes for sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce, Hawaiian-bold gold sauce and a universal barbecue marinade.
Daniel Jones can’t say for sure just how the effort will grow — maybe another player will come onboard, bringing a new set of social causes to the forefront — but for now he said he’s just blessed to have ended up where he has.
“In my family, humility is a big thing,” he said. “You know, the restaurant business will keep you humble. Go out on the football field, that’ll keep you humble, too. You get hit and you get knocked down. But you have to do what you have to do to survive and if that means getting creative, then I say go do it.”