JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When it comes to Black business legacy, Jenkins Quality Barbecue may be one of the oldest Black family-owned restaurants in Jacksonville.
The business was founded in 1957 by Melton Jenkins Jr. and his wife, Willie Mae. Their daughter, Meltonia Jenkins, is the current owner. She was 13 when her parents opened their first location.
“When then other kids went out to play or the movies on Saturdays, I came to Jenkins Barbecue to work,” Meltonia Jenkins recalled. “We started with only one employee and family.”
Back when the business began, it was limited to Black customers only.
“Back then, Jenkins Quality Barbecue was segregated. We were in the Black community. We started on Kings Road,” Meltonia Jenkins said.
After segregation ended, the business grew. Before long, there were three locations in Jacksonville. The business that once only catered to Black customers started seeing white customers come in to order savory ribs and chicken that are slow-cooked to perfection in massive wood fire pits that pipe a mouthwatering smell out into the community. And the business’ special sauce is now ordered from people all over the world.
“I’ll ask some of them, ‘How did you find out about us?‘ Some use to live here. Some of them have friends and tasted it,” Meltonia Jenkins explained.
Since 1957, many restaurants in Jacksonville have come and gone — most recently during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We basically have takeout and drive-through, so when COVID-19 struck, we didn’t have to worry about sit-in,” Meltonia Jenkins said. “The majority of our business is not sit-in, so it didn’t strike us that hard.”
At some point, Meltonia Jenkins will retire and her son, Javon Brown, will take over ownership.
“Yes, I’m ready but I’m still learning and training to get ready,” Brown said. “I know it’s a major responsibility but I’m up for it.”
Brown has actually been learning all about the business since he was a child himself.
As for how to make that secret sauce, News4Jax was told only family members get that recipe.