Big week for Big Lee’s
Rashad Jones of Big Lee’s BBQ busts out the tongs to compete on “Beat Bobby Flay” and opens his first brick-and-mortar quick-service restaurant in Ocala.
Rashad Jones of Big Lee’s BBQ is opening his first eat-in restaurant in Ocala on July 4 and will be on Food Network TV on July 6. [Photo courtesy Rashad Jones]
Locally famous, famously upbeat barbecue guru Rashad Jones will be back on TV again, grilling it up against celebrity chef Bobby Flay, and he’s opening his first brick-and-mortar Big Lee’s Serious About Barbecue restaurant in Ocala on July 4.
The quick-service restaurant, at 2611 SW 19th Ave. Road, is in a complex anchored by the Regal Hollywood 10 cinema. The spot once occupied by a Jimmy John’s will accommodate around 40 guests inside and 10 outside on a pet-friendly patio. The new restaurant will serve beer and wine in addition to fountain drinks and their signature Big Lee’s Tea.
Jones co-owns the business with his wife, Patrice. The couple operates four food trucks and a food trailer, set up at various locations throughout the greater Ocala area.
Because of the popularity of his barbecue, Jones has had to accommodate long lines, but he’s working on a method to speed up the service and is training employees to explain the menu and not have customers feeling like a deer caught in headlights when they approach the counter to make an order.
“You’ll be greeted by a couple of folks who are excited that you’re here,” he said. “That person’s gonna walk you through our menu and help you put together your order, find out what you want. We don’t want you to feel like you’re walking into a private meeting and they’re speaking a different language.”
Customers will also be able to see the barbecue magic in the works.
“We will have a completely open concept,” Jones said. “As soon as you walk in, you can see 95% of our kitchen, all the meat that’s served, it’s presented right up front. You get to see what your slice of brisket or your ribs or your chicken’s gonna look like. It’s not assembled in the back somewhere.”
Jones is especially proud of his brisket and burnt ends and has made converts of people who’ve shunned the meat style because of dry, ropey experiences in the past.
“My brisket melts in your mouth,” he said with a beaming smile.
Rooted in a family tradition
If you’re new to the area, you might be wondering, “Who is Big Lee?”
Big Lee was Patrice’s uncle, Leon “Big Lee” Archie. He was a wizard with a smoker in Greenwood, Mississippi. He apprenticed Jones before he died in 2012. Jones honors the man and keeps his memory alive, praising Big Lee for his “incredible skills” and the “unparalleled quality” of his ’cue.
“He was generous with his trade secrets,” Jones said. “He would freely give me tips on how to achieve better results.”
Jones explained that his barbecue business grew from a homegrown concept: “I’m not some guy who said, ‘All right, where do we want to open our next barbecue restaurant?’ No. Our concept was born, bred and nurtured right here in Ocala.”
Right after the opening of Big Lee’s, Jones will appear on national television.
The 12th episode of “Beat Bobby Flay” season 34, titled “The Win Beneath Their Wings,” will air at 9 p.m. Thursday, July 6, on the Food Network.
“It’s really exciting,” Jones told the “Gazette.” “This is my sixth time back on Food Network.”
Without giving away spoilers, Jones said that Flay is “genuinely competitive,” and thinks a major motivation for him inviting Jones back to his show is to have a rematch to settle the score.
“I can beat him, you know,” Jones said with pride. “Our team never lost the competition in eight episodes of ‘BBQ Brawl.’ I know he didn’t feel too good about that.”
The Ocala pitmaster made his national TV debut in “Guy’s Big Project,” a Food Network program starring celebrity chef Guy Fieri, in 2017, where he won a grand prize of starring in his own six-episode series, “Eat, Sleep, BBQ.”Last year, Jones defeated nine other restaurateurs selected from across the U.S. as a competitor in the third season of the “BBQ Brawl.”
“Guy invited us to be on an episode of ’Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ with him when he was over in Daytona Beach Shores last fall,” Jones recalled. “So, we did that, and earlier this year we were featured on our own episode of ‘Diners Drive-Ins and Dives.’”
On “Beat Bobby Flay,” Jones will compete in two rounds. For the first round, two chefs square off against each other — in this episode, Jones and Kent Rollins — and then the winner, chosen by celebrity judges Kardea Brown and Carson Kressley, will attempt to out-grill Chef Bobby Flay.
Made for TV
Jones, 44, was born in Rahway, New Jersey, and moved to Central Florida at age 11. He graduated from Lake Weir High School in 1996. Before launching his eatery in 2014, he lit metaphorical fires, founding Epic Youth Services, which provided motivational talks, a high school curriculum for disadvantaged youth and life-skills mentoring.
The grill master also worked at Publix, and for eight years was Director and Lead Health Educator for the Marion County Health Department’s abstinence education program.
Other Ocala cooks who’ve risen to TV culinary fame include Jose Juarez, who won the “Live! with Kelly & Michael” America’s New Grill Chef competition in 2015. In 2014, Lori Frazee of Dunnellon was featured on the Travel Channel show “American Grilled.” She made it to the finals but lost the $10,000 grand prize to her competitor.
Most recently, Chef Yohann Le Bescond, pastry chef at the World Equestrian Center, made it to the final three on the Food Network’s “Summer Baking Championship.” Throughout the season, Le Bescond has wowed the judges with his sophisticated twists and presentation and has been a fan favorite on Twitter and Reddit.
Now, Ocala is bracing for another of its culinary stars: Rashad Jones.
“It’s not just about a recipe for a dish, but the winning recipe that is Big Lee’s,” Jones explained. “We make sure the customer is front of mind, and there’s no workaround when it comes to hard work. You have to be willing to work incredibly hard. …But the biggest part of the recipe is the people. If you have great quality team members and leaders who are empathetic, who care more about others rather than just the bottom line, that’s the winning part of that winning recipe.”
The Food Network can be accessed on Spectrum TV Ch. 59 or stream online via the Max app, Sling, or live TV platforms of Hulu and Youtube. For more information on Big Lee’s Serious About Barbecue, mybigleesbbq.com.