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Brenau’s barbecue championship funds local scholarships

Organizers anticipate drawing $100,000 for scholarship program

POSTED: May 20, 2011 12:45 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

John Childers of Pigs in Heat of Toccoa prepares his smoker trailer as he sets up Thursday afternoon at Brenau University for the third annual Brenau Barbecue Championship.

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In the Brenau Barbecue Championship's three-year history, the event has managed to do what few others can in infancy — turn a profit.

In fact, the finger-licking festival made $24,000 in its first year. And this year, organizers anticipate drawing $100,000 for their barbecue-based scholarship fund.

"When people come to me and say, ‘I want to do a barbecue contest and a fundraiser' I say ‘You need to go look somewhere else,'" said Randy McGee, president of the Memphis BBQ Network. "If you're going to start a barbecue contest and that's all you're doing, it isn't something that in the beginning is going to be a revenue source."

That makes Brenau University's event, taking place Saturday, an anomaly in the barbecue championship arena, McGee said.

Event organizer Jim Barco, the college's senior vice president for development, attributed much of the success to the event's unique fundraising purpose — scholarships for local students.

"When we approached corporate sponsors (we said) this was going to impact not just customers and neighbors but church members and people they see every single day," Barco said. "This was going to affect young people who have grown up with their kids."

Corporate sponsors have offered tremendous support to the event, $24,000 in the first year and about $95,000 this year. That money more than covers the event's overhead, Barco said. And entrance fees for the barbecue competitors almost completely covers the prize money.

As the event ages, organizers are streamlining their processes and cutting out overhead costs by reusing materials and booths.

"We had one of the leaders of our physical plant say, ... ‘This is the third year and each year we get better at setting it up,' which just means we get more used to being more efficient with it," Barco said.

And that means more scholarship funds.

But as the event grows, it also means a greater impact on the overall economy. More than 3,500 people showed up for last year's event, which was held in less than perfect weather.

Saturday's forecast projects 89 degrees and sunny, so Barco is hoping the crowd will top 5,000. Those people hail from Hall County but also from around the Southeast. Cooking teams this year are coming from six states, with judges hailing from nine.

"They tend to stay in hotels, eat in our restaurants," he said. "They tend to buy our gas."

The event draws more than beer and ribs fans, said Christina White, the college's dean of graduate admissions who is also handling the kids programming for the festival. Families make up a good portion of the attendees, she said.

This year organizers are expanding the vendor selection, adding more quality artisans to appeal to a wider audience.

"If someone has zero interest in barbecue they're going to have some very cool vendors to pick from," Barco said.



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