Siblings Jeremy and Josh George opened the barbecue restaurant on Nov. 29 near Old Poway Park
Three years ago, Jeremy George called up his big brother, Josh, with a business proposition.
If Josh — a world champion wheelchair racer who was then living in Australia — would help Jeremy buy a $5,000 meat smoker, Jeremy would give him a share in the barbecue business he was planning to launch. Back then, Josh never imagined the partnership would become any more than an investment in his brother’s future. But life takes its twists and turns.
On Nov. 29, the George brothers opened the doors of Smokin J’s BBQ, a quick-service restaurant and catering operation in the Old Poway Village Shopping Center. Jeremy, 32, is the pit master who oversees all cooking and kitchen operations, while 35-year-old Josh is the front-of-the-house man, in charge of the marketing, sales and customer service.
Despite the fact that the George brothers spent half of their lifetimes living apart in different states or countries, their business partnership has proven to be a smooth and natural fit.
“We really balance each other out well,” said Jeremy. “Neither of us needs to be the big shot. We’ve always been that way since we were kids. We were always a team. I can’t imagine it any other way.”
The George brothers grew up in Herndon, Va., where at age 4, Josh became paralyzed from the chest down in a fall from a 12th story bedroom window. By age 7, he was a wheelchair racer who went on to compete in multiple sports. He studied journalism on a partial wheelchair basketball scholarship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Over the next decade, he would devote himself to training as a wheelchair athlete.
From 2004 to 2016, he competed in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro, winning a gold medal, a silver medal and three bronze medals. He’s now in training for the 2020 games in Tokyo. He also holds six world championships in the sport. To train in warm weather year-round beginning in 2008, Josh spent every winter in Australia. In early 2017, he decided to move to Sydney full time because he has a girlfriend in Australia.
Meanwhile, Jeremy had gone to college at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., a city famous for its barbecue. With a buddy, he spent much of his free time traveling the South and Midwest trying out the different regional barbecue styles. In his early 20s, he began dreaming of opening his own barbecue restaurant but financial realities got in the way. After college, he moved back to Virginia and spent four years working for his dad’s investment firm.
“I loved the intellectual side of the business but I missed being outside and making things and using my hands and I love cooking,” Jeremy said.
So, with his girlfriend, he quit his job to became a professional poker player and they moved to Singapore for a while to raise money for a restaurant. In early 2016, they moved to San Diego where they surveyed the restaurant scene with the ultimate goal of opening a barbecue business. All he needed was the money to buy his first smoker. Not long after he got the call from Jeremy about the smoker, Josh said he broke up with his Australian girlfriend. And later, as Jeremy’s mobile barbecue catering business began to grow, he needed a hands-on partner he could trust to help make Smokin J’s a success.
In mid-2018, Josh moved to San Diego to become a full partner in the business with Jeremy. After a rocky start building a steady catering clientele, the business began to thrive — with three mobile smoker teams catering up to 50 events each month. But Jeremy’s ultimate goal was to open a brick-and-mortar establishment, which finally happened last month.
The takeout-style restaurant serves brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs, chicken and pork belly slow-smoked over a red oak fire. There are also sandwiches, burgers, burnt ends, beans, mac ‘n’ cheese, slaw and other sides. Jeremy said the secret isn’t in the housemade spice rub or tangy barbecue sauce, but in the consistently even cooking fire, which requires hand-stoking every 45 minutes, 24 hours a day. The meats are sold by the 1/3-pound, ranging from $7 to $13, to the full pound, from $18 to $26. They’re also sold in sandwich form.
While the brothers are focused on getting the restaurant established, they have scaled back their catering operation. But they plan to ramp that back up in the coming year. Josh said he will focus on the person-to-person side of the business so his brother can do what he does best, barbecuing.
“Our personalities are just different enough that we complement each other,” Josh said. “Some of the stuff that comes naturally to me, like the creative marketing side and being social and bubbly, allows him to focus on the things that he’s good at, like being in the kitchen, making the food and creating a great customer experience on the back end.”
Smokin J’s BBQ
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays. Closed Mondays-Wednesdays.
Where: Old Poway Village Shopping Center, 14035 Midland Road, Poway
Phone: (703) 314-1486