The first St. Albert Rotary RibFest at Lions Park hit a snag. The Rotary Club’s new fundraiser received a smaller response than expected.
The five stations of ribbers were expecting close to 20,000 hungry visitors. Mark Dixon, Rotary RibFest organizer, estimated about 7,000 to 8,000 people attended.
The weekend weather was mainly sunny with occasional bouts of rain. While temperamental weather conditions may have kept a few people away, Dixon believes it was a minor issue.
Instead he pointed to all the competing events that diluted attendance.
“We recognized Heritage Days was on. Big Valley was on and, like Heritage Days, that’s a popular event. There was a circus in town and another RibFest going on in Sherwood Park,” said Dixon.
The Gazette interviewed three random families noshing on the sweet-smelling ribs and chicken. Each one gave the event and food high marks. But they also felt more advertising was needed.
St. Albert resident Curtis Gill, who moved to the area by way of Toronto, gave Pistol Pete's full rack of smokin' ribs an 8.5 on a scale of 10.
“You know it’s good when it melts in your mouth and comes right off the bone. This one has a really good flavour, especially the spice,” said Gill.
Ironically, he’d heard of the Sherwood Park event before discovering a similar RibFest in St. Albert.
“This is an event that needs way, way more advertising. I’m sure if more people knew about it, they would come to eat.”
Husband and wife Rick and Margaret Lester dropped by to sample the street food. Ribbers offered taste samples of sauces and the couple ended up with Texas Rangers ribs, chicken and pulled pork plates.
The Lesters used a street food app but were unable to locate RibFest.
“It’s not that we need more junk mail, but maybe a flyer would get the word out,” said Margaret. “I’m hoping this event is a success. I’d like to see it come back, but I’m not sad to see the shorter lineups and I’m glad we found a place to sit.”
The Palmer family, Neil, Renee and Abigail, 7, planned to enjoy the weekend at Heritage Days. Unaware of RibFest, they were driving on Sir Winston Churchill Road to Riel Park when a strategically placed bouncy castle in Lions Park grabbed their attention.
The St. Albert family turned their vehicle around and walked to the park stopping by Billy’s Barbecue to pick up a half rack of ribs and a quarter chicken.
“It’s awesome to have something like this in St. Albert – people gathering to celebrate the outdoors. Something like this really brings a community together,” said Neil Palmer, owner of Hawkeye Equipment.
Although attendance wasn't massive, the rib masters from Buckeye BBQ, Pistol Pete, Billy’s BBQ, Texas Rangers and Blazing BBQ donated $17,000 to Rotary.
“The RibFest looks promising, but we would like to see more people come out to raise more money,” said rib master Andrew Reinhardt of Billy’s BBQ.
Although this RibFest has barely ended, discussions are underway for next year.
“We’re going to pick a different date. We also want to make this amazing event not only for St. Albert but also for north Edmonton. One of the suggestions we had was a mail drop,” said Dixon.
RibFest was also an opportunity to highlight ribbers' culinary prowess through a competition. The Texas Rangers scooped up trophies for Best Sauce and Chicken while Pistol Pete won bragging rights for Best Ribs.
Dixon would also like to thank individuals and members from various service clubs that stepped up to fill 240 volunteer shifts collecting garbage, selling tickets, proserving at the bar, and setting up and taking down.
“We couldn’t have done it without them.”