Our BBQ Debut!
Hey Y'all! Welcome back to Que-Licious!
Well folks, we are to the point in our little barbecue adventure where we decided to make our bbq debut to test our product by introducing our barbecue to the general public. Granted, it was a most exciting, nerve racking, exhausting, and much anticipated event to prepare for as this was our first venture in mobile concession. We decided since it was just going to be the two of us, we would choose a small venue with a lot of different people in attendance so we could get a true sense for how well, or not so well, our product was received. Being only two months away from the annual four day event of the 127 World's Longest Yard Sale, we decided to take a drive one Sunday afternoon along state route 127 in hopes of securing "the perfect spot" to set up our little barbecue stand. Given the fact that we were out two months in advance you would think available spots would be plentiful...not so. One very important lesson we learned right away was in planning and securing your spot for recurring events in advance...and sometimes, if not always, this means a year in advance. This is without a doubt the most important part of planning your year in mobile concession. It doesn't matter how good your product is if you can't get it in front of customers. So, after a day of traveling along State Route 127 in Ohio for most of the day we finally stumbled upon the place where Whiskey River BBQ would make it's BBQ Debut...The Darke County Steam Threshers Association!
We could not believe our luck! The Darke County Steam Threshers Association is located along State Route 127 at the York Woods that has both water and electric hookups, campsites, and a restroom/shower facility onsite...very important feature for us! We wasted no time in contacting the steam threshers to inquire about setting up our barbecue stand. Once we finalized all the details, picked out our spot, and paid our fees; we went home and started our planning process.
We knew we were going to have our sauce out there for customers to try and I have to admit I had that nervous-excited-nauseated feeling in my gut that was just not going to go away until that first customer tried our sauce! That is why the planning was going to have to be perfect and I would have to plan through the eyes of my customer. Now, two months may seem like a lot of time to get organized and plan for an event such as this; but I honestly could have used another couple of weeks and whole lot more insight. This was going to be a true learning experience for us.
I have attended so many fairs, festivals, and even a few bbq competitions (only as a spectator) and knew what drew me in as a customer looking for some good food and that is what I was going to duplicate for our customers. You know what I mean right...if you are looking for a fresh grilled Italian Sausage you wouldn't get that from an vendor selling elephant ears. I would be inclined to buy one from someone standing over a hot grill rather than in front of a microwave is all I'm saying. So I really wanted our barbecue set-up to "look" like barbecue; complete with the red and white checkered tablecloth...as you can see from this picture taken in our driveway the day before the set up.
Not perfect...but it got me started. We were going to be setting up at a yard sale event, so there were no health department requirements to be met and everything was very casual just as if you were selling in your own front yard. The actual set up turned out to be a little different.
This is our actual first set up which, for a yard sale event, I thought turned out pretty good. The important thing was to make our set up design friendly, inviting, and encourage word of mouth advertising! Which totally happened by the way! After we were satisfied with our set up design, we put together our menu, set our price, and started making sauce!
If anyone out there reading this blog post has ever realized their dream coming true then you know what an indescribable feeling you get the moment you realize it's becoming a reality. And that nervous-excited-nauseated gut is something that you will just have to get use to...in a good way.
Our plan was to arrive the night before the first day of the event, set up, and start smoking that night to be ready for the first customers by 10 a.m.; unfortunately mother nature had other plans for us and the rest of the participants of the event. We loaded the truck, hooked up the smoker, and just as we were getting ready to lockup the house and head to the event...it started to storm. Now folks, anyone out there living in Ohio knows that the weather here can turn on a dime...and it does. When I first moved to Ohio I was told if I didn't like the weather to just wait about 15 minutes because it would change. They were right! We quickly turned on the television and sure enough there were storm warnings with a high wind advisory/tornado watch in place for the rest of the night...great! So, knowing we would be a day behind we decided to stay home, get a good nights sleep, and just start fresh in the morning. Sometimes these little reminders are necessary to help us realize exactly who is in charge of the planning.
After arriving a day late due to the weather, we decided to walk the campground and pass out our menus to the other vendors - even the food vendors - and let them know that we would be serving breakfast in the morning and baby backs on Saturday in case they wanted to place their order early. We also left a stack of menus at the front gate so yard sale shoppers would be sure to see that authentic slow smoked barbecue was being served at this event. We arrived at the York Woods around 8AM on the first day of the sale which was Thursday and not a too terrible busy day. For those of you who are not familiar with the 127 yard sale event, I would encourage you to check out the website. This event spans 675 miles from Hudson, Michigan to Gadsden, Alabama and people actually plan their entire vacations around this event. I was more than just a little excited with the possibility of getting customers from outside our immediate community to try our product. From the first smell of the hickory wood to the first sandwich served our little booth was buzzing with customers! We loaded our smoker down with pork butts, brisket, and brats for the first day and decided that Saturday, the busiest day, would be the only day we would sell baby-back ribs. That would give us three solid days of selling food and capturing that all important customer feedback we so needed.
Oh...and did I forget to mention we gave our customer's their choice of sauce to use? Sweet Baby Ray's is probably one, if not the, most famous barbecue sauce on the market and I'd say anyone who has tried barbecue has more than likely tried their sauce and is familiar with the taste. So what else did we decide to offer our customers as an alternative sauce choice but SBR's. Talk about a boost to the ego...we got it! We bought 2 gallons of SBR's sauce and made 2 gallons of JD's Jacked-Up BBQ Sauce and gave customers their choice of which sauce they wanted. They were free to taste each one and use as much as they wanted on their food. Just as I had predicted at our backyard pig pickin'...we were a hit! We ran completely out of our sauce on Saturday, and had to make another gallon just because of repeat customers choice!!! We did go through some of the SBR's as well, but not even close to the amount of our sauce we went through! We ended up taking a gallon and a half of the SBR's home and only about a half a gallon of our sauce. Not only did we receive compliments on our sauce, but our food as well!
Our brisket sold out early on the first day (Friday), our baby backs sold out within two hours on Saturday, and by 2 o'clock on Saturday afternoon we were down to just pork butts and brats! There is no question in my mind that we would have ran out of food on Friday and one of us would have had to make a run to Sam's Club just to have enough to keep up with the demand if it hadn't been for the storm. In doing that, we would have had to tell our customers the product wasn't ready, we were sold out, or they would have to come back...which was not an option. (See what I mean about that planning thing!) To recap...that's 40 pounds of brisket, 50 pounds of pulled pork, and 80 brats within 7 hours of the first day, not to mention 25 racks of ribs within 2 hours...I was a happy girl! To hear the response our food received and the overwhelming requests for our sauce just made me so proud and reassured us we were on the right path and this was a perfect way to test our product! We took a notebook along with us and took detailed notes on the good, the bad, and the ugly so we could get a handle on where we needed improving. In my opinion...it was everything except the way we cooked! That weekend we served people from Michigan, Tennessee, Alabama, and our community and the response could not have been more encouraging for us to continue on the next phase of our journey...a bigger event!
Keep cookin' y'all!