Many of our favorite barbecue joints sell their own proprietary rubs and sauces, but hunting them down can be a challenge. You may have to visit the restaurant to buy a fresh bottle, or track down which grocery store carries the product. Joe Zavala of Zavala’s Barbecue, in Grand Prairie, thought it was time to bring the items together in one place, so he launched Zavala’s Barbecue Distribution earlier this year. He and his team bought rubs and sauces by the box from various Texas barbecue joints to resell online and inside the BBQ Speakeasy store down the street from Zavala’s Barbecue.
“We want to make sure it’s the best of the best in Texas,” Zavala said, so he began by asking the joints from Texas Monthly‘s Top 50 if they’d like to participate. So far, seventeen of them have agreed to stock BBQ Distro (as Zavala calls it for short) with their products. He has also invited joints from outside the state with strong Texas connections, like Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, in Atlanta, whose founders are from Fort Worth. BBQ Distro pays the full retail price and then adds a markup, so this isn’t the place to go for a discount. “Customers coming to BBQ Distro are looking for the convenience of access, education, and content, all in one place,” Zavala said.
The education part Zavala mentioned comes in the form of once-a-month barbecue classes held at the BBQ Speakeasy, which is so called because the shop is tucked into the back room of Mas Coffee Co., run by Zavala’s wife, Christan (if the coffee shop is open, so is the BBQ Speakeasy). They host a free “hangout” the first Saturday of every month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and offer free Lone Star beer and barbecue. In July, that meant smoked beef-rib banh mi tacos made with the S.W.A.T. sauce from Blood Bros. BBQ, in Houston.
BBQ Distro also offers a barbecue-of-the-month subscription box, which includes not meat but a sauce and a rub. Zavala said the target is backyard cooks who want to use the same seasonings as the professionals. Blood Bros. BBQ was featured in the first box, sent out in July, and August’s box included the Clucker Sauce and Spike rub from Stanley’s in Tyler along with a few stickers and a bottle opener. (Full disclosure: I received an unsolicited box of each in the mail.) Zavala said as the new business matures, he’ll consider including the same cuts of meat used by top barbecue joints, but there’s no timeline for that step.
BBQ Distro currently offers 51 sauces and 39 rubs, and Zavala continues to add new joints to the mix. Zavala encourages fans to buy from their favorite restaurants directly when they can, but, he said, “you’d have to go to twenty different websites and pay them all for shipping” if you want the variety offered at his shop. “We don’t care if you buy the rubs from us or from them,” he said. “We just want to make sure the cross marketing of all this together is more than what each of us can do individually.”
There is one glaring issue with BBQ Distro, and that’s pricing. Due to an effort to use a single price for most of the rubs and sauces (currently $16.95) and to pay full retail price to the barbecue joints for their stock, the difference in price between what the barbecue joints charge and what BBQ Distro charges can be wide. Zavala said the prices were a starting point chosen at the launch. “As we start to scale and also bundle products entering the holiday season, there will be adjustments in price,” he said. One target the company hasn’t missed is the demand. Zavala said the monthly subscriptions have already gone out to fifteen states and three countries. Explaining the early popularity, he simply said, “People want to take a bit of Texas home.”