Tender pulled pork. Mouth-watering BBQ chicken. Spicy mac and cheese. A savory BBQ sauce infused with habanero for an extra kick. Team GovX was more than happy when Devil Dogs BBQ catered our monthly staff lunch. After devouring an epic meal and wiping BBQ sauce off my face, I spoke to Ret. SSgt. Jeremy Putts—the 20-year veteran Marine and the founder of the company serving authentic southern-style BBQ—and Cpl. Isaac Cortez, the Marine Jeremy hand-picked to take over the business.
Jeremy always wanted to become a Marine. He hurried straight to the nearest recruitment office at age 16 to enlist, where he was promptly told to wait two more weeks until his 17th birthday, which was an eternity for a kid who only ever wanted to be a Devil Dog. “They were the best,” he said. “Growing up in Arkansas, I always thought they were the best, and I always wanted to be one.” And it was an opportunity to get out of the restaurant business, where he’d been working ever since he was a young kid bussing tables and washing dishes.
Jeremy served a full 20 years with the Corps, bouncing from Pendleton, to Miramar, to Yuma, and finally, across the ocean in Okinawa. He served in Iraq in 2005 and Afghanistan in 2011. He worked in aviation maintenance, servicing the Huey workhorses, Cobra attack choppers, and the big and beefy C-130 cargo plane all around the world.
Five years before his retirement, Jeremy was serving in Arizona and the men and women of MCAS Yuma were hungry. Experienced in food service and southern BBQ, he ended up serving his fellow Marines. Marines across the base devoured hundreds of pounds Jeremy’s tri-tip, ribs, and slow-cooked pork. He developed a passion for the role and quickly developed a notoriety among his peers. The experience made Jeremy interested in starting a restaurant. But he would need to start small. Refine the work. Perfect the recipes.
After retiring, Jeremy got started by renting out a food truck. He worked the brewery circuit for nine months, then got his own truck. For months, he had to learn the intricacies of running a business, finding work, drawing up contracts, the works. “After just a few months, I was bleeding money and thinking of running the truck off a cliff to collect the insurance,” he said. “But I’m a Marine. I can’t give up.”
His Marine Corps values took the wheel and kept Jeremy away from the cliff. There’s a “never quit” attitude many Marines quickly identify as a core character attribute that never really leaves, even after your commitment to active duty ends. “I’ve been working since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. I’ve literally been paying taxes since I was 13,” he said. “If this is my challenge, then it’s my mission.”
Jeremy prevailed. Not long after, Jeremy got a contract serving the Marines at Pendleton, his first official government contract. Now he was talking serious money.
He loved staying connected to the Marine Corps community through the delicious meals he served out of his truck. “The expressions hungry people have on their face when their food is served is something special. Especially Marines. And especially when the food that’s being served is something other than an MRE,” Jeremy says. “Sometimes life can suck in the Corps. Sometimes life can suck in general. But when you’ve got a good meal in front of you, you tend to forget all about it.”
Working Pendleton allowed Jeremy to be more selective in what jobs he took, be more thoughtful in where to take the truck to maximize revenue. San Diego breweries, he discovered, weren’t a big moneymaker for Devil Dogs BBQ. That honor went to the taco trucks, the fusion cuisines, and increasingly, vegetarian businesses. Apparently, hipsters aren’t down with dry rub. By choosing the right jobs (and the right customers), Jeremy managed to turn Devil Dogs BBQ into a viable business that could stand on its own.
His mission complete, he decided to focus on a new one. He plans to move back to Arkansas and open a restaurant as he initially wanted to do. But he had to make sure the truck was in good hands. But only a Devil Dog could take over Devil Dogs BBQ. After interviewing several candidates, Jeremy chose Isaac, the right Marine for the job to take the wheel of the truck and the business.
A four-year USMC veteran, Isaac looks forward to fully taking over for Jeremy and taking Devil Dogs BBQ to new heights. “One thing the Corps teaches you is leadership. No matter what rank you are, you are a leader,” he says. “This is my mission and I’m going to complete it.”