John D. Dawkins III has a lot going on. You’ll know that immediately upon arrival at his six-month-old spot, Jonathan’s Wood-Fire BBQ & Seafood, in Olathe. Out front, you’ll see three or four different smokers burning away in the parking lot (all home-built), plus the steamer for his seafood offerings, which include crab legs and shrimp with corn on the cob.
“Barbecue is something that’s been in my life my whole life,” Dawkins says. “I learned at my grandfather’s pit in the back of my grandmother’s backyard in Detroit. Even long after he passed, we still light that smoker today. I was introduced to excellent smoked meats at a very young age.”
And barbecue—in addition to the newish space where Dawkins has two food carts—is just one of his interests. Dawkins is also a minister, and says his eponymous ministry drives everything he does. His main line of work, for the past fifteen years, has been as a concierge who arranges things for international business and military travelers brought to Overland Park for training in the city’s tech industries. “Before they hit American soil, we take care of everything for them,” he says.
And if you need help securing a visa for an international traveler, he does that, too—forging business relationships in places like Indonesia, where he’s traveled, and plans to soon get small-batch coffee lots which he’ll start a company to roast.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to my life, period,” he says. And yet, if you want beef ribs, he’ll smoke you beef ribs, with a day’s notice. Beef ribs and crab legs are rarely sold under the same roof, but Dawkins’ plan is to expand into Texas, where that’ll be required.
“I plan to be just as big as Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen,” he says. That’s a tall order, but the ribs at Jonathan’s, which have a nice, thick bark with layers of flavor, and the unique pineapple-accented baked beans are very well-made. “I’ve developed an appetite and also the knowledge of how to use spices and such to make anything—I’ve known my way around the kitchen since I was a little guy,” says Dawkins. “I’m crazy with Indian food, man. You’d think I was straight from India. I know how to do it.”
The touches that come from Dawkins’ unique, internationally informed perspective are everywhere—he’s one of the rare pits in the city where someone can get ribs and if another is looking for halal barbecue beef, he’s got that covered, too—that’s why there are separate smokers.
It’s a lot of balls to keep juggling in the air. Which is exactly what he intends.
“When my life is over and I’m standing in front of God, I don’t want to have any gifts left,” Dawkins says. “I want to use them all up. That’s the heart of everything I do.”