Former Longhorn Cedric Griffin’s barbecue truck is ‘family’ business

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Photo Credit: Donnavan Smoot | Daily Texan Staff

There’s a saying that athletes die twice: once physically and once when their career is over. Athletes are often stuck in purgatory once they leave a sport, trying to figure out what to do next with their lives. For some, the end sneaks up on them. But not for Cedric Griffin.

Griffin played defensive back at Texas from 2002-2005 and helped propel the Longhorns to victory over USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl. At UT, Griffin earned a degree in applied learning and development, but he always had an eye for business. 

“For me, I think it was easy,” Griffin said. “When I was playing ball, my mom already put on my head that I have to take that money and do something else with it and don't just be a football player.” 

Griffin took his mother’s advice and ran with it. From the moment he received his first signing bonus with the Minnesota Vikings, he began investing in various businesses. Griffin has owned a gym, a luxury boat rental service on Lake Travis, multiple rental properties and a barbecue food truck. But his food truck is more than just another business opportunity — it’s an extension of family.

J. Leonardi’s Barbecue, located in East Austin, is owned by Griffin and his partner, Jerome Faulkner, who serves as the pitmaster. 

The duo met in 2008 after being introduced by Griffin’s brother. While Griffin played football in Minnesota, Faulkner managed his properties. From there, the relationship progressed from friends to business partners to brothers.

“I don't talk to anyone about my personal life unless it was my mom, and my mom passed,” Griffin said. “Rome was really the only person I kind of communicated with just anything that's going on myself. I don't have a close family, so (Jerome) and his family, I feel like they’re mine.”

Griffin’s feelings toward Faulkner’s family are wholly reciprocated. 

“I talk to my granny once every week or two … and that's the first person she asks about when I talk to her,” Faulkner said. “She loves him like her grandson.”

In addition to the roles they play in one another’s personal lives, both Faulkner and Griffin understand the truck’s importance in the Austin community. As two black men owning a business, they feel like they are examples for the youth in East Austin, especially because Faulkner grew up in the area. 

“It's a big key because we just want to show our youth that they can own businesses,” Faulkner said. “They can grow up and have something and not worry about it.”

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Griffin and his colleagues have used the food truck as more than just an example — they’ve used it as a vehicle for action. Over Easter weekend, they planned an Easter egg hunt for the children in the neighborhood.

“This is the first time anybody didn't have an Easter as far as commercially,” general manager Enrique Gil said. “And it's just the time that people needed to have some sort of regularity to their life as opposed to what's going on right now.”

In addition to the egg hunt, J. Leonardi’s Barbecue has been providing lunches for kids in the area as an attempt to offer some relief to families affected by the pandemic. 

“Yeah, we want to be profitable, but at the end of the day, people are hurting,” Griffin said. “And we want to let them know that they're not alone.”