D.J. Jones and Solomon Thomas' relationship goes far beyond Sundays. It dates back to when the two were selected by the 49ers in the first draft class under San Francisco's new regime, spearheaded by Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch in 2017.
The duo's relationship blossomed over the past four years, and so did the affinity between the Jones and Thomas families. The families initially met during the 49ers Rookie Family Symposium ahead of the 2017 regular season. The 49ers have one of the top orientation programs in the league, not only for their players, but also the family members of players joining the organization.
Based in South Carolina, D.J.s father, David "Big Dave" Jones', heads a successful barbecue business that has served the likes of professional athletes and sports teams, including the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, politicians and the general public alike for the past 24 years. Because of this love for both barbecue and his community, he was inspired to whip up a product that barbecue lovers could enjoy from their own kitchens while investing back into the community.
The Jones family began the D.J. Jones Foundation in 2017 with the mission of helping underserved communities, including homelessness as well as food and home insecurity, overcome adversity by teaching them leadership, discipline and healthy lifestyle skills in a safe and fun environment. The foundation aims to provide programs for inner city kids, such as the D.J. Jones Annual Football Camp and the Annual Toy and Food Drive among other community-wide events.
Charity has always been a passion of the Jones family. Their desire to give back was only intensified after experiencing their own share of personal hardships. David thought of the perfect concept to intertwine his love of barbecue, football and community support.
Known for his sweet and spicy bold BBQ sauce, David revamped the look of his signature sauce to a sports memorabilia label, adding his son to the packaging and rebranding its name to Big Dave's All-American "93" BBQ Sauce. He also added D.J.'s image to the Hawaiian Bold Gold signature flavor. Along with the family's secret recipes getting a new look, a percentage of sales from the sauce goes directly to the D.J. Jones Foundation.
"The whole idea is, if we can reach into our community and change one kid's mindset from conflict and destruction, to construction and progress, we're all for it," David said. "Seeing D.J. engaging with these kids during his football camps and the positive influence it has on their lives is pretty special. So that's where it was formulated. We're trying to grow the foundation from this point on to do bigger and better things for the kids."
The Jones family packed up their catering service in the summer of 2018 in order to serve the entire 49ers team and football staff during the annual Summer Family BBQ at the SAP Performance Facility. Players, coaches, staff and their families enjoyed a carnival-themed event at the close of veteran minicamp before everyone broke for summer. Ribs, brisket, chicken and a plethora of southern sides were served to over 200 guests, all highlighted by the savory secret family sauce.
Thomas and family were among the attendees to witnesses to the Jones' sensation. A year later, during the week of Super Bowl LIV, Jones shared the photos of the new branding for the "93" BBQ Sauce, which piqued the interest of his teammate.
"D.J. said, 'we're trying to get you on a bottle,'" Thomas recalled. "If you just taste his food, you already know that it is special. So, I was all in. We started brainstorming ideas and after the season ended we got our dads on the phone to start talking business and make player sauces. Now we're ready to get them out there."
The ideation process took place as the families developed Thomas' Solar Heat Hot Sauce: hot to the palate, yet an enjoyable blend of herbs and spices which creates a unique and fun flavor that can raise the level of any meal to higher and hotter heights. The family collaboration will also be debuting a Thomas Marinade, a secret family recipe that can be used to add flavor and spice to any meat or as a base for baked beans or chili.
"One of the things I've always had a dream of was being a part of a family-owned business," Chris Thomas, Solomon's father said. "One thing led to another and D.J. and Solly wanted to do something together. Big Dave has his culinary expertise in the kitchen, and I have a lot of knowledge and experience working within the consumer product food industry. We decided to join efforts and try to find a way to make this a brand that not only we can enjoy, but all of North America.
"It's been a really good influence of events that brought us together on and off the field. Personally as well as spiritually. It's been a godsend."
Like Jones, Thomas has also been a leading influence in the advocacy of young lives. A portion of Thomas' sales will benefit his family foundation: The Defensive Line. Launched by Solomon, his father, Chris, and mother Martha, The Defensive Line seeks to end the epidemic of youth suicide, especially for young people of color, by telling the truth about it - by transforming the way people communicate and connect about mental health. Thomas has been a strong proponent for mental health awareness after losing his sister, Ella, in 2018 to suicide at the age of 24.
"We want to make sure that we can be the total place to help people with their mental health – to talk about it, to share their stories, to get help and to normalize the conversations around mental health, not limited to communities of color, but to everyone around us," Thomas said. "That's our goal and that's why we're excited to launch the sauce with it, so we can get profits from the sauce to go to such great causes."
The two newest flavors are set to hit the market later in 2021. Big Dave's goal is to extend the brand of the player sauces and, ultimately, continue to marry the connection of football, food and community.
"Just having a family that has a heart to give back, that's our family and the Thomas family," David said. "When we discovered that we both have a heart for people and for helping fix brokenness, it just clicked. It just made sense."
To learn more about Big Dave's sauces and how to order your bottles, visit TheBigDavesBBQ.com.
More on the D.J. Jones Foundation:
The foundation was founded to help empower inner city kids and help them overcome adversity and homelessness through sports. Not always being so fortunate themselves, the Jones family fell on hard times in the past years as well. Jones admits that playing sports helped keep his mind occupied while dealing with the struggles at home. One of those struggles includes when the economy fell in 2008 and the family had to close their Clemson restaurant and move back to Greenville, SC. The D.J. Jones Foundation aims to use funding to provide programs for inner city kids, such as the D.J. Jones Annual Football camp and the Annual Toy and Food Drive. One of the future goals the Jones family foresees for the foundation is to provide scholarships to children in unusual circumstances.
More on The Defensive Line:
The ultimate vision of The Defensive Line is a world where no young person of color dies by suicide. In order to achieve that, The Defensive Line will focus all its programmatic efforts on suicide reduction by providing education, support and connection to young people, especially people of color, and assist institutions that serve young people to bring better practices to their approach to suicide prevention. The Defensive Line will primarily focus its efforts on educational institutions across the United States and aim for the following outcomes:
- A reduction in deaths by suicide in educational institutions that partner with The Defensive Line.
- An increase every year in utilization of local mental health and support services in each institution that partners with The Defensive Line.
- An increase in coordination amongst institutions that partner with The Defensive Line each year.