Smokey Divas are keeping the family tradition alive, one rack of ribs at a time.
Lorraine Jones opened Smokey Divas last June on the corner of Onota and Locust streets in Pittsfield, serving southern barbecue and soul food to complement her line of barbecue sauce, 92nd Sauce. Reflecting on the first year, she has been pleased with the reception.
"The first thing they tell me is that they really liked the food," she said. "The second is that they can tell that we really cook. There's nothing out of a box or a can, everything's homemade. We start every day from scratch. People say they can taste the difference."
Jones comes from a long line of food entrepreneurs. In 1973 in Oakland, Calif., Jones's grandmother, Dorothy Turner, opened the first Everett and Jones Barbecue with a $700 loan and some credit from her meat suppliers. Today, Everett and Jones Barbecue is the longest running African American business in Oakland. 92nd Sauce is an updated version of her grandmother's sauce recipe (that's still served in all locations).
For Jones, 92nd Sauce is an homage to her family roots.
"My aunts had been running the business, and they're getting older. They said, `It's time for us to retire and for you kids to take over,'" Jones recalled. Her aunt taught her the business, including how to barbecue and how to make the sauce. Her mother and business partner, Penny, has been a significant support and sounding board for what goes on the menu, and with her daughter Olivia behind the register, it's a new generation of family in the business.
92nd Sauce is made at the Franklin County Community Development Center in Greenfield. The sauce, a secret family recipe, has a tomato base that comes in three versions: mild, medium and hot. They keep the flavors the same and increase the intensity of the heat.
After the team made their first batch, it was time to start selling it.
"We bottled the sauce. We were so proud of our first run, and we took it to the [Pittsfield] farmer's market and people were walking past the table. They didn't want to spend money on something they had never tasted. We figured out a good way to get people to try it was to barbecue," she said.
They purchased a grill and started selling smoked meats topped with their sauce to allow customers to try it. After the positive community response, Jones decided a restaurant was the next step.
Smokey Diva's menu features slow-smoked meats, such as pork ribs, pulled pork or brisket. Those come in two sizes, with the regular portion ranging from $9 to $12, which can be upgraded to a larger portion for $1 to $2 more. A meal is $14, and includes the option to add a side — mac and cheese, collard greens, maple sweet potatoes, or Penny's potato salad. Add a piece of cornbread and you are ready to go. Round that out with a dessert, such as homemade cherry crisp. Ribs, chicken and brisket are always on the menu with seasonal additions and rotating specials.
One of the dinner items that has been popular has been the brisket, she said, but only if you can get there in time.
"Everybody loves brisket," Jones said. "It's slowly smoked for 12 hours. We sell out of that frequently."
For sides, mac and cheese, and collard greens are top picks for customers. "People come in and try them and say, 'I haven't had collard greens in forever, my mom used to make them.' I think it takes people back."
There are gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options available, and Jones has been experimenting with adding more meat-free options to the menu. Customers can call-in an order for takeout; delivery is available in Pittsfield with a $25 minimum order, or you can grab a seat at one of the 10 seats available at the restaurant.
What's been her favorite part of all of this?
"The love we felt when we opened," Jones answered. "People brought us plants, they came from the neighborhood, they wanted to say hi, and introduced themselves. I love the support."