June 16th, 2024

Lethbridge Rotary Ribfest serves up barbecue goodness

By Dale Woodard on August 17, 2021.

Herald photo by Dale Woodard - Katie LeBlanc and Melissa Kocis prepare some ribs before the final day of the Lethbridge Rotary Ribfest 2021 Sunday afternoon in the Enmax Centre parking lot.

Whether they chose to drive up or walk up, rib-lovers donned their bibs once again for the Lethbridge Rotary Ribfest 2021.
Serving up tasty slabs of BBQed goodness with funds raised from the event going right back into the community, the third annual event ran Friday through Sunday at the Enmax Centre.
After going to a strictly drive-through format last September to heed COVID-19 pandemic protocol, this year’s Ribfest stuck to that same drive-through format, but also gave diners the option to walk up to the four rib vendors from the Western Canadian Ribfest Tour: Camp 31, Pistol Pete’s Smokehouse, Buckeye BBQ and Billy’s BBQ.
“This year, because we weren’t quite sure what COVID was going to do we decided to stick with the drive-through event,” said Ribfest co-chair Nick Nicolacopoulos. “COVID has been up and down, we’re talking about the fourth wave now. We just wanted to be careful, we wanted to be conservative and we wanted to be safe.”
Nicolacopoulos said numerous rib lovers chose the walk-up option last weekend.
“They can park and walk over and choose their ribs and walk back and eat. We’ve opened it up a little bit, but we stayed conservative.”
In the 35-degree heatwave combined with the smoky air from the B.C. wildfires, Lethbridge Rotary Ribfest co-chair Kaela Corazza said the drive-up option is ideal.
“You get to be in the luxury of your vehicle with air conditioning and music and then you get to go home,” she said. “If you don’t want to hang out, you can go home. To me, this business model is genius and I would push it again because it’s so smooth.”
Nicolacopoulos said next year’s Lethbridge Rotary Ribfest will probably continue with the same model, adding they’ll perhaps add a stage for some bands and beer garden to make it more of a festival event.
“But still, this model works so well for everybody.”
Attendance was solid the first two days with 1,207 vehicles Friday and 1,768 on Saturday.
“Last year we were just over 1,800,” said Corazza.
Nicolacopoulos noted last year people were “cooped up” due to COVID restrictions.
“We weren’t allowed to get out. Restaurants weren’t open and we couldn’t dine in, so there was some pent up demand,” he said. “This year, we’re surprised our numbers were as healthy as they were last year because restaurants are opened up and people can get out and can dine in and go on holidays. Yet, we’re still seeing the same numbers. So it just tells us what we did last year built on a great reputation, so we can do it again this year and still enjoy the same kind of numbers. We’re very pleased with this year.”
Ribfest partners with local Rotary clubs across Canada to raise money for local causes.
“That money comes from these events. So these guys (vendors) are making money, for sure, but they are also helping us raise money for our local community and supporting the local causes.”
Corazza said the vendors also bring money into the community.
“From accommodations to food to just using our basic services, from propane to sanitation and water. For three days they’re bringing thousands and thousands of dollars into the local economy. The reason we get to do what we do is because of them joining our events like this.”
Jaime Williams, the pitmaster for Camp 31 from Alabama, tipped his hat to last weekend’s tour stop.
“Lethbridge has been phenomenal,” said Williams. “They showed up big-time. We’ve seen a lot of cars come through here and there have been a lot of satisfied people getting some ribs, chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket, beef bones, you name it. People are leaving here satisfied and full.”
Williams said the majority of last weekend’s customers continued to enjoy last year’s drive-up format.
“You stay in the comfort of your own vehicle and you can bring your own beverages. You have the air conditioning because it has been scorching hot right now. Overall, it has been very well received. We’re really excited the drive-through worked again this year and we’re really happy that Lethbridge showed up and supported us and also supported the local community.”
Nicolacopoulos said they hope to raise $40,000 from this year’s Ribfest.
A beneficiary has yet to be selected, but it has been pared down.
“This year we’re doing a pilot project where we’re studying where the need is greatest in our community,” said Nicolacopoulos. “We’ve done some focus groups and we have whittled it down and we are down to youth. We’re going to focus it even further down from there and once we have identified the greatest needs in our community, that’s where the dollars will go. We’re being very careful this year to make sure the money is being spent where it really is needed.”

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