What a weekend! We pulled off our second festival on Saturday with much success despite a lot of concerns. We had a lot of apprehension going into this one because their usual head count was 1000 but this year they were interviewed by one of the local TV stations for a news segment and landed the cover plus a 20 page article in Our State magazine. And then there was some rough weather that moved through Thursday night and all day Friday that soaked the festival grounds and parking area. This event could have gone either way on us.
So not being sure what to expect we made 300 lbs (precooked weight) of pulled pork, 100 lbs of brisket, 50 lbs of chicken quarters for pulled chicken, 140 lbs of coleslaw, 200 lbs of baked beans, 200 pork shots, 3 gallons of vinegar BBQ sauce, 2 gallons of tomato BBQ sauce, and 1 gallon of mustard BBQ sauce.We also arranged for enough buns for 400 thinking some would not want a bun based on our experience at the last festival. I definitely learned that no two festivals are alike. Let me start at the beginning on Friday...
Around 7am I got up and went to Sam's Club to pick up my meat order and supplies. I had ordered 4 cases of boston butt, 1 case of packer brisket, and 1 case of chicken quarters. Things seemed to be going fairly well until I saw the price the guy tagged the case of briskets at. I asked him to open it up and they were trying to give me a case of flats. So, being the passionate individual I am, I started to give him an earful. While I don't know how much of what I said he understood due to a bit of a language barrier, I do know he got the message and disappeared into the meat dept to pretend to look for the case of packers he never ordered (he was the one I had talked to on the phone when I placed the order). While he was doing that I looked through the meat cases and lo and behold they had some packers there which is very unusual for my Sam's Club. When the meat guy returned with his manager I explained what had happened and told him how he could fix it. He then boxed up the packers in the meat case and tossed in a few flats at packer case price and I was back on my merry way.
I arrived at the festival grounds about 10am and found my partners still working on getting the smoker setup. The field was very soft and was making getting the smoker into position a lesson about traction, 4 wheel drive, and needing lockers on a tow rig. We eventually gave up on getting into the right position but had to account for a rather large incline to level the smoker. So my buddy Gary ran off into town to purchase some cinder blocks that we could place under the tongue while Dennis and I worked on getting the canopy, tables, and supplies setup. Then we worked on getting the smoker fired up. At this point the rain was starting to come in sideways and the festival organizer started talking about canceling. We let him know we had just dropped almost $1500 into meat and supplies and that backing out was not the best option. Luckily he didn't cancel.
Around 11:30 we finally had the smoker completely level, up to temp, and ready to cook so we began rubbing our 32 butts and putting them on. Once that was complete we began working on our dinner and a little experiment. At the last festival we had a number of folks ask us if we had enough dinner for them which were unprepared for and we weren't gonna let those sales slip away this time. For the vendor and staff dinner we put on 15 lbs of meatloaf, 5 lbs of baked beans, and attempted 5 lbs of no-boil mac and cheese, a recipe I had stumbled across on here recently. Our experimental mac and cheese consisted of a cheddar and mozzarella and also a velveeta. About 6:30pm we started serving dinner and made back our investment in it. This was the first smoked meatloaf many of them had ever had. Both mac and cheeses turned out great and we asked our customers to let us know what they thought of each. Surprisingly they were evenly divided. I preferred the texture of the velveeta but liked the flavor of the cheddar and mozzarella. I will continue to work on this recipe until I feel we have something we can add to our menu since it is very simple to do.
With dinner a distant memory, we began to prep our pork shots and then brisket. We rubbed the brisket around 10pm and had the 13 lbs packers on by 11pm. The 8 lbs flats were put on around 2am. Finally bed time for yours truly. The three of us had agreed to take 3 hours shifts. Dennis was taking from 10pm - 1am, Gary was taking 1am - 4am, and I was taking 4am - 7am. So I crawled into the backseat of my Suburban, unzipped my 0 degree bag and used it like a blanket. I slept amazingly well and woke up 10 minutes before my alarm was set to go off.
At shift change Gary told me that 5 of the butts were almost ready to come off and the others were still in the 170 - 180 range. Over the next three hours I had 5 butts that came off, a minor grease fire to contend with and lots of fire stoking. According to our Thermapen it was 35* out but sitting on the fender of the smoker it felt pretty damn comfortable. As 7am approached we were on if not a bit ahead of schedule so I decided to let the guys get some more sleep and watched the sun slowly rise in the east. I prepped 8 pans of beans and got those into the warming box to get some heat and smoke flavor before waking the guys up around 8am. Then the first of the chicken got rubbed and added to the smoker along with some pork shots.
Then the rest of our crew showed up about 8:30am with the slaw they had made the night before. Our mad dash of prepping our area began. We moved the canopy out of the mud pit we had created the day before and began to setup for customers. By 9:30am we were setup and loaded for bear. It was a good thing too. The festival wasn't supposed to start til 10am but people were already streaming onto the grounds. The first hour of the festival was quiet much like our previous festival but once 11am rolled around all hell broke loose.
Customers began to trickle over and by 11:30am our line was 20 deep. Dennis was furiously pulling pork, Gary was tending the smoker and managing the meat, I was cutting slices of brisket like a robot, and the ladies were moving the customers through the line. I came up for air around 12:10pm and looked around. Our line had now grown to at least 40 deep and was extended beyond the stage where I finally noticed the band that had been playing for quite some time. Our line stayed that long for the next two hours despite moving people through the line as quickly as we could.
At 1:30pm we ran out of buns. At 2pm we ran out of brisket. At 3pm we ran out of plastic cutlery. And by 4pm we had very little left. I did manage to buy some buns from the hotdog/hamburger vendor who obviously wasn't having that good of a day. You would think that 4pm would be the end of it since that was technically the time the festival ended. For us it was the next rush as festival goers came up to purchase take home plates.
All total we served 579 plates of BBQ. We had anticipated 400 based on the number of vendors, a SWAG on the crowd size, etc. The festival organizer said his count (you had to pay to enter so they had a fairly accurate count) was between 2500 - 3000. For being our second festival, we did pretty well. Once again, chicken proved to not be of any interest and we only sold about a dozen plates of it. It will be dropped from our vending menu. We sold more slaw than beans at this one which is the opposite of the last festival. We added a gluten free plate offering and that did surprisingly well as we sold two more of those than we did two meat plates. Buns and cutlery are cheap and I need to make sure I have more than we can expect to use just in case. We maintained a 64% margin overall which is significantly better than the 50% margin we ended up with last time.
Just like the last festival, we handed out a lot of business cards and got a number of leads on other festivals and events. We will see if any of those pan out.
Sorry for the novel, but I know I have enjoyed reading the experiences of others so I thought I would share mine for anyone that is thinking about getting into this themselves.