John Reaves, founder of Dallas’ beloved Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que, dies at 74

John “Smokey” Reaves, whose barbecue restaurant near Love Field grew into a cultural institution and triumphantly reopened this year after a devastating fire, died Saturday.

Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que & Home Cooking, now owned by Reaves’ sons Brent and Juan, announced his death on its Facebook page. Reaves was 74.

“This morning, our father and founder, “Smokey” John Reaves, went home to be with Jesus,” the post read. “We are at peace because he is no longer in pain. Service details are pending. Thank you for all of your prayers and support. God bless!”

Reaves opened his original location at Lemmon Avenue and Mockingbird Lane in 1976 and moved to the current location on Mockingbird near Harry Hines Boulevard in the 1990s, where it has remained and thrived. It’s known not just for its food, but for weekly Bible study sessions that Reaves started in the 1980s.

The current location was largely gutted in a 2017 fire, but two years later it reopened, resuming its menu and its weekly Bible studies.

Reaves sat in the audience at that first study session after the restaurant reopened.

“It’s like a family gathering,” he said then. “People have been gone, and all of a sudden they’re coming back. We just had a family reunion.”

Before he embarked on a career in restaurants, Reaves worked for Glenn Justice Mortgage Co. in the 1960s, according to his biography on the restaurant’s website.

He later owned his own mortgage company and insurance agency.

Reaves had a series of financial setbacks in the late 1970s and reexamined his life, turning to God and embracing faith as part of his restaurant business.

“[God] isn’t going to want to know how much money you made,” Reaves told The Dallas Morning News earlier this year. “He’s going to want to know ‘What have you done with my son?'”

In addition to operating Smokey John’s, the Reaves family also runs four Smokey John’s booths and two Ruth’s Tamales booths at the State Fair of Texas. Reaves became involved in the fair in 1979 and was one of its earliest black vendors.

On Facebook, accolades poured in for the pioneering restaurateur.

“What an incredible man of God he was!” one comment read. “So many people’s lives touched and changed because of his obedience to God!”

Another comment focused on Reaves’ impact on a family member.

“I didn’t know your father personally but the impact he had on my husband’s life is one I’ll be eternally grateful for,” the comment read. “He helped restore some sense of peace in him.”

Another comment took note of Reaves’ legacy.

“The world has lost a Titan yet GAINED an angel!” it read. “I know for sure He’s sitting pretty. Our sincere condolences may the Peace of Jesus be with you your siblings and entire family.”

Funeral services are pending.