I’m asked all the time; “Why don’t you sell your food at festivals?” “I know this festival that would be perfect for what you do. I go there every year and I have never seen anybody selling food as good as yours.” First off not to sound like I am a “know-it-all” but this isn’t my first rodeo scooter, I’ve been thrown off that bull enough times to know when to quit. At the same time I’ve rode that bull past the 8 second mark and walked away with the bounty, but it still comes with a price to be paid.
So to be historically correct I officially gave up festival vending on Friday night of September 9, 2011 when a promoter called me and said the event for the very next day was being cancelled because of rain… even though there was a rain date and total cancellation was never talked about.
Ok so let’s break this down and see if we can find the exact moment where this train left the tracks.
About 10 years prior (possibly longer) I was called upon to cook a pig at this local event that was hosted by a local volunteer fire department to celebrate the Harvest season. I had bigger fish to fry (so to speak) so I sent my then girlfriend Sue and her helper Lou to go cook a pig and sell sandwiches while I went to do this (so called) huge fireworks event for a township police department about 30 miles away. Police department/promoter said “guaranteed over 100,000 people at this event. Yeah… One hundred thousand people, and I checked the event directory and it confirmed for that event 100,000+ people for one day event. Oh man… I will sell more food than I can cook, I’ll be rich. Why would I even go cook for these farmers and their Harvest fest?
September 9, 2008 )from left) John, Sue, Jen & Brett
But something inside me said; you grew up as a kid on a farm and I love farmers, I love the country way of life and it is my community after all, I didn’t live there at the time, however I had worked around that area for many years and knew a lot of the people in the area. (Don’t worry the “et tu brute” will come later.)
So here I sit trying to sell BBQ at an event that has 19 other vendors selling some form of BBQ… and where the hell is the 100k people? All I see is a bunch of deadbeat ne’er–do–wells staggering around mixed with a working class crowd and ain’t nobody spending money on food. Meanwhile Sue calls me and says she sold all her food in two hours and her festival still has several hours to go. She can’t leave she is blocked in. I can’t leave and I’m stuck with all this food. And where the fuck is the 100k people? Ok it is a fireworks festival, maybe as the day progresses the crowd will build.
John pulling pork 9/9/08
About one hour before the fireworks are due to go off a tsunami of people wash over the festival area making their way to the waterfront of a lake to get a spot to view the fireworks. I did sell some food, but not what you’d think. And I guess if you took in to account the size of the lake and all the people attending in the outlying area, it most likely added up to 100K people. Boy did I get duped on that one. Yes my friend that is called “living and learning” and eating French fries for breakfast lunch and dinner for the next year. Of course the $300 I paid for the vending spot sat real well with the police department. And the money I paid out in help, the truck I rented and… I don’t even want to think about it anymore than that.
So when the police department called the next year I didn’t even argue I said nix nix and take me off your list and lose my number we’re done.
As for the little Harvest festival; well for the next several years I did that festival every year. Now this part is important. I was told the event would always be the first Saturday after Labor Day and that the rain date would always be the next day, on Sunday. I was never told that a total cancellation was an option. I was to give 20% of my till to the fire department at the end of the night and I faithfully & honestly did exactly that every year. It was a verbal gentlemen’s agreement and we left it at that. So as time passed by there were good years and some slow years. Why I can even remember utilizing the rain date option, although the crowd was smaller I could still at least break even. The slow years, like most owners of a business I would make very little or nothing. My helpers made money I paid them by the hour, the department got their 20% and so goes the story.
Now I will admit there were good years where I made a decent little cha-ching… But I (as in me) worked like hell all week preparing. Smoking and shredding pork, slicing smoked brisket and some years we sold smoked ribs. Running to & fro buying all the stuff I needed, I had good tents & signage, I wanted everything to look as good as I could make it look on the budget I had to work with, and that meant lowering the profit. I would not do all this extra work for other events, but I did it for this event because why? It was for the good of it all, the community, the people and just because that is how I work.
In 2009 we were washed out. We had a week of hard rain leading up to the festival. My basement flooded, I lost a lot of equipment in my recording studio, I lost a lot of high dollar stuff in my workshop and my relationship with my longtime girlfriend was ending all at the same time. But I was still prepared to be at the festival with my BBQ and roast a pig. I had to roast the pig because it just wouldn’t be a festival if there wasn’t a pig cookin’. The festival utilized the rain date option and we went with Sunday that year. The crowd was a little light but still a lot of people came out to eat, drink and be merry as they say.
2007 (from left) Shawn, Sue, Pat & Me (Pigdude)
2011: So in 2011 I was newly married to Munn and the cooking season was progressing pretty well. 2009 & 2010 were really bad years for my business. I relocated and that hurt me, plus it was a lot of hard work. Because of the poor economy I had reduced from three cooking crews down to just me and one assistant, imagine losing 2/3 of your profit & lifestyle. I actually wanted to pack it in and call it quits. But Munn was having a blast learning all about my crazy business. She was having fun so I was having fun. She loves people and she rekindled the fun I used to have when I went out to cook for the masses (as I would always say). I had been telling her about this little festival that I do every year, how much fun it would be and how much fun the people have. Munn is from Thailand and this was her first year here and she was so looking forward to seeing and cooking for a festival in the USA.
As the week came the weather was looking grim to say the least. It rained for several days leading up to the event. I was waiting to hear the “word” was it going to be Saturday or Sunday. I heard nothing. It was Friday night about 9:00pm, I had just finished shredding/pulling all the pork, I had also finished the slicing of the brisket, and I had over 200 lbs of fries in the freezer. Munn & I were done for the night, wiped of all energy I offered to buy her a coffee at the local Wawa store on the way back to the rented room we were staying in. Yeah like I said “times were tough that year.” So as I approach the Wawa store I get a call from the fire department saying (and I quote) “yeah that festival we do every year… well this year we’re not going to do it.” I’m thinking he means we will do it on Sunday and not Saturday. “No we’re just going to cancel it.” So needless to say I was devastated beyond words, the conversation was brief and I hung up the phone. I pulled into the parking lot of the store and I called the man back. Now that second conversation was… shall we say “heated” to say the least. I also told him to lose my number and never ever call me again, just forget who I am. Munn & I sat there drinking coffee and you never seen two deflated souls as we were that night. The loss of money alone was enough to make a good soul just give up.
Ahh… Fries, who doesn’t love fries.
I mostly blame the weather and that is the real reason I stopped doing the festivals. And I have to say that while I hold no ill feelings (personally) towards the man who gave me the bad news that night, I do fault the fire department for not giving me a heads up that a “full cancellation of the event” was an option. I also have to fault myself for being gullible enough to not have a written and signed agreement. Fuck me once shame on you, fuck me twice ain’t ever gonna happen.
2017: So now their festival has been reduced to what it should have been all along. It is a Beef & Beer event and I don’t believe there are going to be fireworks. So what was once a so called Harvest Fest is now just stand, eat and drink. And truly there is nothing wrong with that, after all that is what it was all along. There are just a handful (if that) of farmers in the area… well except for the new age plowboys that ride around in there big 4×4 trucks that they tune to sound like a tractor (I think it makes their penis feel bigger). They got the cookie cutter country music playin’ and they’re about as akin to a real farmer as the new age biker is to a real Hells Angel or Pegan. So with no real farmer population, there is no harvest and why not just go with the formula that has worked for hundreds of years.
And what is that formula you may ask? Ok so if you want to make any party, event, fundraiser whatever a real success…
- Beer and lots of it.
- And if it is good food all the better.
- And if it is live music all the better.
That’s it that is all you need. Some may say to add sexy women, but I still would go with beer, food and live music.
So this was just a small slice of the food vending history of Have Pig Will Travel, but it was these events that led up to me saying “never again, no more food vending.” While I do believe in God, Jesus and the devil, I also believe Festival promoters are the devils offspring, some place on their body is the number 666… it has to be. In all my live I have never met a more low-down dishonest, self-serving, and greedy group of people.
Well I guess I could say it was fun while it lasted… nah I’m not going to say that.
Have a great day everybody and thanks for reading.