Dale Woodard Lethbridge Herald
Welcome to Rotary Ribfest, the 2020 version.
Please drive through.
The Enmax Centre parking lot was the place to be for fans of some lip-smacking barbeque as this year’s Rotary Ribfest — part of the Western Canadian Rib Tour — pulled into town Friday through Sunday.
But in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ribfest took on a new look and followed pandemic protocol with a strictly drive-thru format.
On early Saturday afternoon, the lines of vehicles were already deep as motorists placed their order, then pulled up for some socially-distanced takeout courtesy of Billy’s BBQ, Camp-31, Buckeye BBQ and Pistol Pete’s with proceeds going to the Lethbridge Rotary Club.
“Friday was our first day and the Enmax has been a great organization to deal with,” said Nick Nicolacopoulos, co-chair of Ribfest Drive-Thru 2020. “They helped us set up the traffic flows in the area. (Friday) we had a smooth-running experience. We had 1,350 cars come through. The longest wait was 15 minutes.”
That minimal wait time agreed with the car-bound diners.
“They loved the fact they didn’t have long waits and that it went smoothly,” said Nicolacopoulos. “The food was great and the experience was good. We had an area where they could park and eat if they liked or they could just go home and eat their food. We did what we thought was the best with the COVID world, but Rotary is all about raising money for the community. We haven’t been able to do that because we usually have three events every year and this year we didn’t have any events. When Ribfest came along we thought ‘How do we do this?’ and our friends on the Western Canadian Rib Tour came to us and said ‘Let’s do a drive-thru Ribfest.’ This is their eighth one in Western Canada and by the time they got to us they had it figured out.”
Tailgater Jay Hansen provided the motorists with cool drinks before they got in line to place their order.
“I’ve timed it and most are waiting six to eight minutes,” he said. “If you can go to any drive-thru and get that kind of food in massive quantities, a six- to eight-minute wait is nothing in a drive-thru. They produce very quickly and it’s been great to have them.”
As the owner of Billy’s BBQ, Andrew Reinhardt wore another figurative hat for the tour as the director of operations for Western Canada Ribfest.
The Lethbridge stop started off with a bang Friday.
“(It) was one of the strongest Fridays of the tour so far. We’re excited about it and hopefully (Saturday) we can get past 2,000 cars,” said Reinhardt.
For the Ontario business, becoming fully self-sufficient was key to pass Alberta protocol, said Reinhardt.
“We had to bring our own water tanks and holding tanks, which we’ve never done before. As well, everybody gets a temperature check before work, signs off a sheet and gets checked.”
Reinhardt said the consensus among rib owners was heading out on the road this year in a pandemic would be a risk.
“But in our business the whole thing is a risk. That’s what we noticed about the drive-thru, the weather doesn’t affect the event. Last weekend in Fort McMurray it was hailing, but we were still lined up. It was a risk, but it’s been a positive. We’ve actually seen an increase in sales at certain shows, which is impressive.”
Over at the Camp 31 booth, owner Bernie Gerl, who has locations in Brewton, Alabama and Paris, Ont., said the tour is falling into a nice groove on the eighth stop in Lethbridge.
“Everywhere we go we make it better and safer and every spot we come to is obviously unique. It’s hard to figure out but after seven stops we’ve got it pretty good now.”
In a time when businesses were shutting down in the face of the pandemic, Camp 31 looked for another way.
“We were the first people that said ‘There has to be an alternative to this,’” said Gerl. “Tim Hortons and Wendy’s are open and doing drive-thru. Why can’t we do drive-thru? Let’s try to initiate something that works and then the drive-thru concept started.”
Proceeds will go to the Rotary Club, but on Friday there was another local beneficiary of a Camp 31 donation.
“We gave the Soup Kitchen 300 smoked turkey legs,” said Gerl. “And we’re going to raise a ton of money for the Rotary for everyone in the community. Although we are not from this town, we’re supporting this town.”
Nicolacopoulos said 50 per cent of funds raised from this year’s Rotary Ribfest will be donated locally and the other half internationally. A local charity has yet to be determined.
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Dale Woodard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald