Hearne: American Royal — ‘Great American” BBQ War O-V-E-R

6a00d834515f9b69e201156facb671970c-320wiSuppose they gave a barbecue fest and nobody came, starting with the organizers…

Last year was to have been the 8th running of The Great American Barbecue Festival. The sponsors were on board, a distinguished body that included Fox 4, Garmin and Chinet. A new location at the Overland Park International Trade CenterĀ had been selected, the event having previously gone down at the Woodlands and Sandstone.

A “Grand Champion” purse of $5,000 was touted.

Then – poof – it was gone!

The three day smoked meats saturnalia that sprang angrily forth in 2005 – that was to include hot-air balloons, live entertainment, fireworks and launch KC’s so-called “barbecue season” every Memorial Day – was no more.

AmericanRoyalPrint2Organizers of the GAB professed to be taking the high road when it first launched, but it was clear that there was bad blood between its 60 or so founders and American Royal Barbecue of which many GABs were veterans.

The Royal rattled its sword by declining to rule out legal action against the new GAB.

The reason for the rift?

2634ce6-1Jason Cole (an exec with AMC) said the GABs viewed their days as hands-on organizers at the Royal BBQ as numbered.

“When it started 25 years ago it was largely just a bunch of guys who got together and just thought it would be fun to cook out in the parking lot,” Cole told me then. “It’s really hard to say there was some kind of discontent or a straw that broke the camel’s back.

“But over the last five or six years (the American Royal BBQ’s) grown into a huge event. Now it’s become one of the largest sources of revenue for the entire American Royal. And where it used to be volunteer-driven, because of its size and the overall strategy of the American Royal, it’s more managed by the American Royal’s professional staff.”

American Royal head honcho at the time George Guastello shot back; “That’s totally false. Their feelings were unjustified. But sometimes you have to evolve with change. We’re not the same organization we were 100 years ago.”

great american barbecue 2012That, despite that the American Royal BBQ was only 25 at the time…

And as I wrote then, not all the vols associated with the AR BBQ were that enamored with fumbling about in plastic aprons and waving flashlights while dodging SUVs in the parking lot.

“We just thought it would be more fun for us to start a new event versus what we would be asked to do at the Royal,” Cole said.

Guastello’s carefully worded parting shot:

“They want to do their own deal, that’s it, and that’s fine. It’s fascinating how it really isn’t an issue – we wish them well, that small group of individuals.”


That small group managed to choke out seven fests up until the one last year that died a quiet death.

So aside from the obvious, what was it that lead to the Great American’s sad demise? A demise which does not appear to have been covered by any of the local media that touted it all those years. Including Fox 4, which as a lead sponsor must have known that the event bit the dust.

Now the kicker…

Not only did Great American’s demise go unreported by the Star – which trumpeted it’s formation with a front page story and continued to choke out schmooze pieces clear through what turned out to be its final year in 2011.

Carolyn_Wells,_KCBS_exec_dir,_photo_by_Larry_KingIt failed to as much as mention the fest in a Star Mag Q&A yesterday with KC Barbeque Society co-founder Carolyn Wells.

The same Wells who in 2009 said that, “The Great American has grown into one of Kansas City’s signature events,” describing it further as “one of the major players in competitive BBQ.”

Oh and one more thing:

“The Great American Barbecue is a fundraiser for the 25-to-1 Fund, a 501 (c)(3) organization affiliated with the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. Net proceeds from the event will go to Fox 4 Love Fund, Guadalupe Center, Boys and Girls Club of Wyandotte County, Kookers Kare, Wyandotte County Park Foundation, and St. Mary’s Food Kitchen of Kansas city, KS..For more details and ticket information, go to: www.thinkbbq.com.”





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9 Responses to Hearne: American Royal — ‘Great American” BBQ War O-V-E-R

  1. chuck says:

    It is 4:05 in the morning.

    I am eating left over Bar B Q from Sat. for breakfast.

    The more Bar B Q in KC, the better.

    Try Brobecks. My new fave.

  2. balbonis moleskine says:

    I always thought the American Royal people were leaving so much on the table by not turning the insular AR BBQ event into a “taste of Chicago” type of event. It just seems so logical for KC to have a huge BBQ fest open to the public. The AR BBQ is fine but you kind of need to know somebody or have your company have a tent. And even then eating a 1/4 slab of ribs with your boss isn’t that fun.

  3. kansas karl says:

    “That small group managed to choke out seven fests up until the one last year that died a quiet death.” What killed the beast? Lack of sponsors? Please complete this story.

    • admin says:

      I’m trying, KK.

      Tracked down Jason Cole and he doesn’t know anything about it, been out of the loop for last couple years. Placed calls and emails to the usual suspects, but nothing back.

      If they were making a ton of dough, a good guess would be they’d still be doing it. Will stay on it.

  4. tiad says:

    Well, last year down here near the OP Intl Trade Center, I recall seeing the GAB Festival setup – tents, banners, the whole nine yards. As I recall, there was bad rain that weekend, so maybe a lot of it got washed out – or even postponed completely? I don’t know for sure. Maybe that killed it?

    • admin says:

      Could be.

      But one would think that there would have been some news coverage on it or even a mention of the KC Barbeque Society’s web site saying it was cancelled or washed out.

      For example, it shows that this year’s Great Mall BBQ in Olathe May 17 and 18 has been cancelled, along with Topeka’s “state championship,” Red, White, Blue & Barbecue on May 24 and 25…
      And – believe it or not – the vaunted Kansas City Kosher Barbecue Festival in OP on August 18th is no more.

      I guess, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

    • Stephen says:

      The last several pages of each monthly KCBS Bullsheet list all upcoming contests nationwide. I just looked through the 2011/2012 archives and can’t find any record of the 2012 event ever being scheduled as a sanctioned event. Additionally, the Great American BBQ Tour in 2011 included both the GABF and the American Royal; when the tour’s 2012 lineup was published in the April 2012 Bullsheet, no GABF.

      Also, regarding “despite that the American Royal BBQ was only 25 at the time” — the American Royal was founded in 1899.

      • admin says:

        I’m going to go back in and post the photo of the promo ad for the 2012 Great American Barbecue Festival for you. So look back up there in a minute and see for yourself.

        The American Royal could have been formed in 1799 or 1699, that doesn’t make the barbecue contest any older than when it was founded.

        Having been around then and knowing a team that was in it the first couple years, I’m not so sure the American Royal itself had much to do with the first few fests in the first place.

        • Stephen says:

          I wasn’t implying that the GABF planners didn’t try for a 2012 event — only pointing out that KCBS never had any part of that year’s non-event before, during, or after, for whatever reason.

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