By Blake Spurney, Special to Newton Now
Jeffery Love will tell you he’s a simple man.
“My life is very simple. I honor my god, and I take care of my daughter and I run my business,” said the owner of Le J’s Bar-B-Que at Chisholm Trail Shopping Center.
Love’s menu follows his script. It has just 10 items: six meats and four sides. Le J’s, which is named for his 14-year-old daughter, Le’Toyia, takes cash only and has no Internet service. The restaurant is a one-man operation.
“Good barbecue, you’ve got to cook low and slow, my grandfather taught me,” he said.
Love gets up at 3:30 a.m. and commutes to the outlet mall to put meat on his smoker and to rekindle the fire from the night before. He puts the pork and brisket on the previous evening, because he said it takes 12 hours to cook. His meat never touches the fire.
“The heart and soul of Le J’s Barbecue is the smoker,” he said.
Love’s great-grandfather was a welder who fashioned the smoker out of old angle iron that is no longer produced by steel mills. Love said the steel came from a mill in Ohio, and his great-grandfather hails from Oklahoma. His mother’s side of the family comes from South Carolina, which explains the vinegar twang of his homemade coleslaw. He burns green hickory that he gets from Missouri and sometimes apple wood that he gets locally.
One thing Love won’t tell you are the 100-year-old recipes swimming around in his head.
“They’re not wrote down anywhere,” he said. “They come natural to me as a chef. I don’t have to measure them. You’ve got to realize that I’ve done them my entire life.”
Love said he was 13 when he began working for legendary Wichita chef Andrew Toubia, who brought the Lebanese flavor for which the city is known. Love stayed with Toubia for 17 years and learned
“I’m a certified executive chef,” he said. “I’m considered the best chef he trained. You’re looking at him—Jeffery Love.”
Love said he learned French culinary techniques from Toubia, and if you can cook French, you can cook anything because it’s the basis of all food. Le J’s official name even has a French accent over the “e.”
Love said the only things not made in house were the bread, pickles and potato chips. Travelers from no fewer than 38 states have pulled off the interstate to sample his meats, which include turkey, chicken, hot links and ribs.
“My food overcomes the location,” he said when asked how he had managed to carve out a niche at the outlet mall. “People ask that question all the time.”
Love said people told him he would never make it if he wasn’t on social media. He pointed out that he only raised his prices once in nine years. He said he had a loyal customer base in Newton and regulars from all the outlying towns.
“I live in Wichita, but I love Newton. Newton’s been good to me,” he said. “It was a strategic move. It was on purpose.”
The self-described “barbecue king of Harvey County” takes even more pride in his daughter. Le’Toyia has celebral palsy and epilepsy, and Love was told she would never walk or talk. He showed video of her walking a hallway, with a therapist helping guide her steps. He said she can now walk the length of a football field.
“I’m very proud of my daughter,” he said. “The community loves my child.”