Jones Bar-B-Q is run out of a tiny former taco stand in Kansas City, Kan.
But owners and sisters Mary Jones Mosley and Deborah Jones are drawing national media outlets to their doorstep.
The latest to come calling is the Lifetime network, which is featuring the sisters in an online campaign called Her America: 50 women, 50 States, which launched Feb. 12.
Mary, 57, is a fan of the television network so when she answered the first phone call from a Lifetime producer telling her she wanted to feature her and Deborah, 60, in the campaign, Mary thought it was a prank.
“I told the lady to give me a phone number where I could actually call the Lifetime station back” says Mary, as she serves customers inside the to-go eatery one day recently. “Sure enough, she gave me a number, and she emailed us with the Lifetime logos and the whole nine yards.”
Deborah chimes in, “But they kept calling back and talking, and I said, ‘Shorty (her nickname for Mary), I don’t think this is a joke.’ Then they sent the paperwork for us to sign and send back, then when the crew showed up, I said, ‘This is for real, Shorty.’ ”
The network created the campaign following the 2016 presidential election, “when America seemed more fractured than ever … to capture the truth about women’s lives in America, bringing them closer together and amplifying the voices that go unheard and unrecognized,” says a press release promoting the campaign.
Mary and Deborah have been working as professional pitmasters and owners of Jones Bar-B-Q for more than three decades. The latest incarnation, in the one-time taco stand, is near Wild Woody’s Happy Foods West at 6706 Kaw Drive.
A story about the sisters was featured in an August 2016 story in The Kansas City Star. Just a few months ago, in October, Jeremy Hobson, co-host of NPR’s Here and Now, featured them on a radio segment called “What Makes Good Kansas City Barbecue.”
For the Lifetime campaign, photographer Nina Robinson spent four days with the sisters, from the time they got up at 4 a.m. to start smoking meat to 4 p.m. when they closed shop.
“We were interested in finding women who oversee a traditional BBQ operation — from the recipe to tending the fire,” Lea Goldman, editor in chief at Lifetime, wrote in an email. “This role is very male-dominated, and we discovered there were very few women like the Jones sisters in America. Once we got in touch with them, they had an incredible spark and passion for their work. The relationship between them, their collaboration and commitment to their family’s tradition really drew us in.”
Goldman went on to describe the project as a sprawling endeavor and a year of old-fashioned gumshoe reporting and scouting.
“And the women we selected are nuanced and complicated,” she wrote. “She is many things — mother, friend, sister, lover, patriot, opinionated, rebel, free spirit, artist, traditionalist. Good luck putting her in any one box. And in these challenging times, when there seems to be far more shouting than listening, ‘Her America’ demands that we all just stop, even for a moment, and just hear each other out.”
The sisters are surprised that people find them to be such a novelty.
“It may be a man’s field but me and my sister, we don’t feel threatened,” says Mary. “We didn’t look at it as a man’s thing or a competition, because our dad really taught us from when we were small how to do things. He was really just trying to get us prepared for life. He just wanted us to deal with things. If your tire gets flat, don’t just stand there. Get the tools out and fix it.”
“He wanted us not to be dependent on a man,” Deborah chimes in. “On nobody! He always said don’t get dependent on anybody. You better know how to take care of yourself just in case.”
The sisters wish more women would get into barbecuing.
“Come out of the kitchen, go to the backyard,” says Deborah. “Your husband is standing at the grill; tell him to move over, you got this. Catch the heat. Catch the heat, you know? Just like we do it in the kitchen, we can do it just as good in the backyard.”