What started with a unique and tasty chili recipe has now become one of the best local restaurants in Lubbock. The Jones Cafe serves award-winning chili, award-winning hot dogs, and other delicious food such as burgers, fried cheese, Cajun sandwiches, and more, more, more.
Owner Kevin Jones is passionate about making scrumptious food and about contributing to his own, local Lubbock community. Here he shares how he got started and what is so special about his restaurant.
How did The Jones Cafe get started?
“I always wanted to open a restaurant. We were the Chili Dog Cafe for about eight and a half years. We changed our name because we serve a lot more than just hot dogs and wanted to have a name that reflected that. We specialize in the best hot dogs in Lubbock along with homemade chili, but we also have a full menu of delicious items. The chili is an old family recipe that was passed down from my grandmother. She learned the recipe from a man known affectionately as “Old Fart.” My grandmother and her husband loved to travel and their favorite thing was to sample local cuisine in different places.
Once when they were in New Mexico at a chili cook-off, my grandmother watched a man who really seemed to know what he was doing when it came to making chili. He invited her to his kitchen so she could really see how he cooked, and what she wrote down that day is what became one of the most popular dishes that she would make.
So when I wanted to open up a restaurant, I had some ideas rolling around in my head that revolved around the chili recipe. I saw a guy selling hot dogs off a cart in Midland and it got me thinking that hot dogs would be the perfect medium to get our chili to people. Things just kind of rolled on from there."
What influenced you to get into the restaurant industry?
I come from the back of the house. I’ve always worked in restaurants. I’ve worked in Luigi’s down in Midland, and after Midland, I came up to school at Texas Tech. I worked at the Jazz up here while I was going to school. When I got out of school, I got into management and worked for Brinker (restaurants like Chili’s and On the Border) for several years. I worked for a franchise group in Lubbock because I wanted to see what that was all about. I knew that if I was going to be in business for myself I didn't want someone coming in and telling me what to do. I figured a guy with his own ideas didn’t need to open a franchise.
I feel like I’m only good at a few things and running a restaurant is one of them. We’ve been recognized in Texas Monthly, we won a burger competition, we placed in Food Fights fundraiser at the Special Olympics last year and got Best Presentation, so we’ve got some awards out there. We’ve also got 'Best Hot Dog in Lubbock' since 2015 for the Lubbock Avalanche Journal."
What is your favorite part of running The Jones Cafe?
"Getting recognized in Texas Monthly would definitely be a highlight. Also doing the Food Fights was great because it was good to get out there and get involved in the community.
We do a big order for Texas Tech every September that’s anywhere from 2000 to 3600 hot dogs. It’s always nice to get the call back from Tech. Anybody can cook good food in their home, but to sit back and cook for hundreds of people is rewarding. When you’re done you know you just did something that 90 percent of the planet can’t do. I always say that there’s so much in life that I feel that I’m not good at, but no matter what happens I know that I can work a hotline and cook better than 99 percent of the planet. Not many people can say that."
Besides the hot dogs and chili, what is The Jones Cafe well-known for?
“As we transition to The Jones Cafe I would say that we’re trying to get away from hot dogs a little bit. Not that we don’t still plan to serve the best hot dogs in town, but our burgers are certified black Angus beef and they’re 100 percent chuck. They cost more but you can taste the difference. Also, all of our appetizers are hand-battered. We have the best fried cheese in town. If any restaurant came to challenge us on our fried cheese I have no doubt we’d win the challenge.
Of course, our homemade chili is second to none. We use quality beef and no fillers and nothing to thicken the chili. We’ve got great blackened chicken. I was taught to cook in the Creole-Cajun style from my grandmother.
We cook everything to order and use very little frozen material. We blend all of our seasonings in-house. We’re always thinking outside of the box. For example, right now we’re doing a homemade corn dog that’s a dog stuck inside of a whole dill pickle and we batter and deep fry the entire thing. Ninety percent of our soups are homemade. We focus on quality food and quality service. This sets us apart from so many restaurants in today’s age. They’re always looking for ways to do things faster and cheaper. We do the opposite of that. We take our time and buy quality ingredients prepared the right way.
We don't have a basket of fries sitting here when you come in. We wait until you place an order to make the fries. It’s the same with our sautéed mushrooms or grilled onions. We don’t make things in big batches so everything is fresh. It’s the little things like that, which make a difference."
What do you love about Lubbock, personally and as a business owner?
"I like how friendly everyone is. I like how we support our local sports team and local businesses. The fact that the city does little things for us like Fourth on Broadway and decorating around Christmas time. Lubbock is constantly doing community events.
As a business owner, I appreciate the fact that there’s a variety of restaurants for people to choose from. There’s so much diversity in what you can go eat. My buddy owns a barbeque spot, and we don’t look at each other as competition because of the diversity. My Japanese friends who own a Japanese spot down the way sends people to me and I send people to them. I’m going to send people to local restaurants because I know those business owners and I know the money stays here in the community. As a business owner, I like the fact that we all want to see each other succeed."
With support from your local Lubbock community, businesses like The Jones Cafe will not only succeed but thrive and flourish. You can find The Jones Cafe, and other Lubbock local biz, on Towny – the free app for perks that keep you local at your Lubbock shops. Check it out!