A Dallas-based maker of restaurant-quality barbecue rub earned some extra sizzle as the third-place winner in this year’s H‑E‑B Quest for Texas Best competition. Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que tied for third place in the contest, snagging a $10,000 prize and the opportunity to have its barbecue rub sold in H-E-B stores.
The annual Quest for Texas Best competition seeks to find the best Texas-made food products, with the big winners being sold at H-E-B grocery stores around the state. Five winning brands, narrowed down from more than 500 entries, were announced Wednesday, August 24.
Brent and Juan Reaves, the brothers who own Smokey John’s, say the H-E-B recognition means their dad’s dream has been realized. Their father founded the Smokey John’s barbecue joint, originally known as Big John’s, in 1976.
“He always believed that he had a quality product, but he didn’t live to see it validated,” the Reaves brothers say. “H-E-B believing in us today was really them believing in our dad. And today we are so proud that he was validated by a retail giant.”
The brothers say some of the prize money will be shared with the company’s employees at their West Mockingbird Lane restaurant and catering operation. The remainder will go toward product marketing and expansion of retail sales.
Smokey John's tied for third place with Guthrie-based Burnett Ranches, which produces Four Sixes Ranch Chuck Wagon Chili Mix.
Claiming the $25,000 grand prize in the H-E-B contest was McAllen-based I Love Chamoy, which makes a sugar-free version of the sweet, tangy, spicy Mexican sauce.
Creator Annie Leal "made it her mission to make this traditional staple of Mexican candy more accessible to people with different dietary needs," following her father's diabetes diagnosis, the H-E-B website says.
Grabbing first place (not the same as grand prize) was Love & Cookies, a maker of frozen gourmet cookie dough based in Lakeway (a suburb of Austin). The company received $20,000 as the first-place winner.
Ashley Cameron founded Love & Cookies in 2019 after her 5-year-old son was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, a common heart ailment among children. After returning home from a stay at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, all her son wanted to do was “bake cookies with Mommy.”
After that experience, Cameron kept making cookies, sharing them with friends and family. She subsequently opened a store baking and selling 14 gourmet flavors of cookies. She followed that up by introducing a line of four varieties of frozen gourmet cookie dough.
Reacting to the H-E-B victory, Cameron says part of the winnings will be donated to the Kawasaki Kids Foundation and the rest will be invested in Love & Cookies. “We can’t wait to share our product with the rest of Texas,” Cameron says.
Rounding out the list is Houston-based Zwita, which produces harissa, a traditional Mediterranean chile sauce that originated in Tunisia. The company’s owners, Karim and Mansour Arem, take home $15,000 for their second-place finish.
“This is a monumental achievement for us because it confirms that there is indeed interest in our Tunisian stories and culture,” the Arem brothers say. “It is also a testament to how multiculturally rich our beautiful state is and how there is not just one meaning to being Texan. We are humbled that H-E-B wholeheartedly supports us in our mission of preserving our Tunisian ancestry by helping us share it with our fellow Texans.”
The Arems say their prize money will be earmarked for marketing and advertising campaigns.
“Each year we are amazed by the submissions,” James Harris, senior director of diversity and inclusion and supplier diversity at San Antonio-based H-E-B, says of Quest for Texas Best. “The creativity, passion, and determination is truly impressive and inspiring.”