For most of us, the idea that we could be turned away from a restaurant as soon as we stepped inside is inconceivable. Imagine taking a road trip knowing you were barred from most dining spots along the way and the consequences of trying to eat in public might be even worse than being refused a seat.
This was a reality for Black Americans following the Civil War and during the Jim Crow era, and these practices continued for about a hundred years. Even after the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, some defiant restaurant owners refused to comply with laws forbidding segregation.
This discrimination led to the invention and proliferation of shoebox lunches for travel. Meals packed into humble containers ensured that Black travelers would have something to eat on their journeys.
Last February, Juan and Brent Reaves, the second-generation owners of Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que, introduced Dallas diners to the shoebox lunch during Black History Month. The boxes were packed with appetizing food, just like the lunches Black Americans carried with them on their travels, and the commemorative boxes taught us the history of the shoebox lunch.
This year, Smokey John’s is once again offering the meals during the month of February, but with some interesting additions.
The Black Entrepreneur Edition meal box ($14.95) for purchase in-store and online highlights some special items from Dallas-based Black-owned businesses. Each box includes a Smokey John’s sandwich and a side, plus a cookie from Frisco-based Cookie Society and popcorn from Mama Moore's Gourmet Popcorn.
Side choices include spinach or purple hull peas sourced locally from Black-owned farms, or diners can choose any regular side from the restaurant’s menu.
The box also includes a small bottle of hand sanitizer from Urban Hydration in Frisco, which is a particularly fitting addition to this year’s box. A commemorative booklet titled “Then|Now” highlights Black entrepreneurs of the past.
“Last year, we chose foods that reflected what would have been commonly packed back in the day,” the Reaves brothers said on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “This year, the contents are a reflection of our progress and future. Black people are not only patronizing restaurants and businesses without restriction, we also own them. That’s why we’re highlighting Black entrepreneurs of the past and featuring the products of current Black entrepreneurs, in addition to our own, for Black History Month 2021. We thank you for your support and hope you enjoy learning a little about great Black business leaders of the past and present.”
A second box is available this year — an online version ($49.95) that can be shipped nationwide. This version includes the cookie and popcorn from the in-store box along with a bottle of Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que Sauce and a shaker of Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que Rub. These boxes also include hand lotion from Urban Hydration, a candle from Olphactory Candles and the “Then|Now'' commemorative booklet.
Facebook followers can also learn more about the featured businesses through Facebook Live videos and posts on the restaurant’s page.
Smokey John's Bar-B-Que and Catering, 1820 W. Mockingbird Lane (Northwest Dallas). Open for takeout and curbside pickup 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.