For nearly eight years, John Riesebeck has satisfied diners in Gulfport and beyond with his side business — and it ain’t barbecue. Now the owner of Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ is ready to take the venture that’s gained quite the following to the next level.
John brines, jars and labels a signature line of Smokin J’s pickles on-site at the restaurant. The business began with a pint-size jar of Sweet & Sassy Pickles. Sweet & Sassy, the best-selling flavor he describes as “a bread-and-butter pickle with an attitude,” became so popular he added three more sizes to meet demand, including a travel-size version.
“People wanted to take them on the airplane, but they couldn’t get past security with a pint-size. Now they can take four travel-size jars in a quart-size baggie for their checked bag,” John said. “Beats the hell out of eating peanuts on the plane.”
Prior to opening Smokin’ J’s in April 2010, the Texan tried his hand at barbecue competitions across Dallas. It wasn’t long before the hobby turned into a full-blown passion, so John and his wife, Lisa, packed up the smoker, moved to South Pasadena and started selling plates of ‘cue outside of the nearby Ahearn’s Chevron.
With the almost instant support of locals, the couple launched Smokin’ J’s at 5145 Gulfport Blvd.
“Business has been wonderful and will continue to be a main focus,” John said.
Smokin J’s diners happily grub on everything from sliced brisket to tater salad, which is why, according to John, it only makes sense to expand the pickle biz.
“We added three other flavors [in addition to Sweet & Sassy],” said the cowboy hat-wearing owner, who’s as lively as the animated character depicted on each jar’s label. “We have hot for those who don’t like ‘em sweet, sweet for those who don’t like ‘em hot and horseradish.”
He’s had the itch to tap into the grocery store market for the last five years. There’s a problem, though: Zoning doesn’t allow for the production and distribution of pickles at Smokin’ J’s home base.
Rather than trying to change the policy, John decided to take a different route.
“Plain and simple, we’re looking for a property for pickles,” he said. “We currently ship them nationwide to customers, but I want to get into a wholesale line.”
The goal is to introduce the pickles at larger grocers, similar to Lucky’s Market and Publix. Over the past few weeks, John has accelerated his search for the right space to make this dream a reality.
Ideally, the property would range from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet and feature a neighboring building for the relocation of Smokin J’s (the restaurant will soon celebrate its ninth anniversary). But regulars needn’t worry. John is scouting sites in the same area of Gulfport, possibly right down the street.
He tells CL he’s eyeing four spaces at the moment. However, he first needs to get some logistics in order. He doesn’t want to pull the trigger until there are contract prospects with grocery stores to justify buying the property.
John envisions the pickle venture’s future home partnering with shipping companies to move cases of pint-size jars to grocers, hopefully, far and wide. He’d like to secure a space and score a contract with at least one grocery store in the next year.
“Once we get into one store, it’ll take off,” John said.
A pint-size jar costs $7, but the price might vary once Smokin’ J’s pickles go commercial. Depending on the response from shoppers, quart- and half-gallon sizes could also appear in grocery stores, appealing to anyone with a Snooki-level pickle addition.
The owner plans to remain just as invested in Smokin’ J’s — and as present — no matter where the pickles take him. When he isn’t helping the restaurant smoke its ribs, delivering catering orders or greeting diners at the door, he’s making batches of pickles every few days.
“It’s a never-ending process,” he said.
When more than 700 jars fly off the shelves of Smokin J’s each month, we can see why.