Homegrown tomatoes, crispy bacon, crunchy lettuce and a smear of Duke's mayonnaise on white bread have brought together hundreds of Gainesville business leaders for 20 years.
This year, for the last time, McKibbon Hospitality hosted its annual BLT Luncheon and car show, bringing together hundreds of people from the Gainesville business community.
“It’s the last one,” said Jack McKibbon, company co-founder. “Folks have come from all over. One fellow here is from North Carolina with his daughter. We came up with this 21 years ago and just had homemade ice cream and a few people get together. That’s the way it started.”
Tuesday, nearly 200 people stopped by the McKibbon warehouse property on Murphy Boulevard in Gainesville to eat and mingle with each other.
McKibbon, now 93, and his brother Marvin started their business endeavors in 1926 with the opening of a grocery store. They would go on to open the first self-service grocery store north of Atlanta with a Piggly Wiggly franchise. The brothers and their descendants grew in the customer service industry, expanding to include McKibbon Hotel Management and McKibbon Hotel Group.
But the once-small annual event in Gainesville is a nod to the company’s history of community engagement.
“The first year we probably had about 50 people,” said Howard Whelchel, who has helped with the luncheon every year. “It just grew and got bigger and bigger. I furnished all the tomatoes for 20 years.”
The tomatoes provided for the BLT sandwiches have been grown on the McKibbon property for decades.
Whelchel said the vines are “so beautiful” when full of ripe tomatoes. Many of the tomatoes eaten at the luncheon were off the vines on the property, and the plants were still full of nearly ripe, green tomatoes.
Joy Powell with McKibbon Hospitality said the event has changed little in form over the years. The ice cream is now Mayfield peach flavored instead of homemade, but the tomatoes are still homegrown and the event has always been held on the first Tuesday in August.
“As much tradition as they can keep, they’re all about that,” she said.
Powell said many of the guests drove up in their own vintage cars, and guests meandered around the property throughout the afternoon to admire them.
Whelchel said coming together Tuesday for the last ever BLT luncheon was bittersweet.
“We started this out and it wasn’t a big thing,” Whelchel said. “But it was always the best fellowship in the world. Just good people coming together. It couldn’t be better, but it’s a sort of sad day for me. There are a lot of people here I may never see again, because they’ve come from all over one more time.”