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VOL. 126 | NO. 94 | Friday, May 13, 2011

Business of Barbecue

BBQ Fest provides uniquely Memphis networking opportunities

By Andy Meek

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The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is moving its celebration of a fine plate of pork from its established home in Tom Lee Park to Tiger Lane at the Mid-South Fairgrounds this year.

Brandon Thompson checks on pork ribs in the brand new iPad-controlled Race Car Grill for Victory Lane BBQ team for the  2011 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

But plenty about the ’cue-focused competition will remain the same – like the opportunities it affords for local and out-of-town companies to man booths and serve food while also talking shop and building ties.

Hundreds of teams participating in the contest, popularly known as “Barbecue Fest,” will be vying for a slice of more than $110,000 in prizes. Colorfully named teams will serve up their pork to compete in categories such as ribs, shoulder and whole hog, as well as a best booth category.

It’s not just about food. Another gem of the three-day contest is the Ms. Piggie Idol competition.

Some teams are flying in business colleagues to take part in the event. That includes Brent Westbrook’s team, called the World Famous Larry Williams and the Spiderpigs.

Westbrook, business development officer for Argent Trust Co. of Tennessee, said his teammates enjoy getting out of the office visiting with Barbecue Fest attendees, solidifying relationships where they can and getting to know each other in a less-formal environment than the company office.

“Our team is made up of doctors, lawyers, investment people, event-management people, construction people, small-business owners, big-business owners, you name it,” Westbrook said. “Not only is there the internal networking of our team, but there’s a heck of a lot of networking inside the whole barbecue enthusiast world.”

Among the opportunities the contest provides, Westbrook said team members use each other for referrals and references. Last year, he met Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam at the event, and Westbrook got to talk about Argent with Haslam’s wife, Crissy.

“People come from out of town. A lot of people bring down prospects,” Westbrook said. “There’s a heck of a lot of business that’s done. Me, I do a lot of socializing, and then come Saturday morning, I take the competition very seriously, and I cook some ribs.”

Kevin Adams agrees. The chairman and CEO of the CB Richard Ellis Memphis office, Adams said CBRE-Memphis has been part of the Hog Wild cooking team for three years.

Michael Bridges, from left, Shelly Rainwater and Tom Schingle set up the Red Dawg Porkers booth at Tiger Lane for the 2011 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. The event was moved after floodwaters closed Tom Lee Park Downtown.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

It’s an especially handy event to be part of for a real-estate pro operating in a field in which relationships are a powerful currency.

“There is no better way to thank our existing clients and engage new ones than by sharing an experience truly unique to Memphis,” Adams said. “Success in commercial real estate is due in large part to a focus on personal connection, and the Memphis in May Barbecue Fest offers a perfect opportunity to mix business, fun and family.”

The 34th annual contest is one part of the month-long Memphis in May International Festival series of events. The series includes the Beale Street Music Festival, a salute to Belgium, and the AutoZone Sunset Symphony.

A “Piggyback” shuttle will whisk people from Downtown – some of whom may already have booked hotels there – to the site of the contest in Midtown.

The shuttle, provided by Harrah’s Tunica in cooperation with the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, Memphis Hotel Association, Beale Street Merchants Association and Performa Entertainment, will make five stops at existing Memphis Area Transit Authority bus stops on Second Street and then head to the Tiger Lane entrance for drop-off and a return to Downtown.

More information about the shuttle schedule – and other details of the barbecue contest – is available at the contest website, www.memphisinmay.org/bbq.

Meanwhile, Hog Wild teammate Amy Howell, the owner of marketing and PR agency Howell Marketing LLC, has the same take as Adams on the contest’s business possibilities.

She’s a longtime member of Hog Wild. Several years ago, she started inviting clients to lunch on Thursday and Friday of the festival.

“Our annual business lunch at Barbecue Fest is a great way to entertain our clients and friends and spend quality time in a fun setting,” Howell said. “Clients love it, and I always end up meeting new professionals who lead to new business.”

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