SC barbecue business gets a boost from social media

Special the The StateMay 18, 2014 

HEMINGWAY, SC

Rodney Scott didn’t panic when he first got the call that some of his half-century old barbecue pits burned down late last year. A grease fire started with the hogs on the pits closest to the wall of Scott’s wooden shed, burning the entire thing down, but not injuring anyone.

The latest example of how next generation barbecue owners are using modern mechanisms to revive old-soul places, Scott called his fellow food enthusiasts and devised a plan for the Rodney Scott Bar-B-Que in Exile Tour. Scott and his Fatback Collective friends used social media to promote Scott’s tour and raise $81,000.

“Of course, you try to wonder what you’re going to do next,” Scott said. “But I tried to stay calm and assess the situation. We just needed to move on and see what we were going to do next. There was no need to be truly upset about it because it was already done.”

Since the pits weren’t insured, he raised the money to rebuild them with metal materials, so they could be insured in the future. Scott left home on Jan. 18 and didn’t return to South Carolina until Feb. 2.

“We would go on tour, and I would earn the money instead of anybody just giving us money,” Scott said. “It was a good way to earn the money and also help the Fatback Collective Fund.”

The Fatback Collective is a group of chefs, restaurateurs, writers and others who challenge the status quo, build alliances and support farmers, artisans and progressive causes, said Fatback Collective member John T. Edge. Scott is a member, and $20,000 of the money he raised went back to the Fatback Fund for a future project.

Social media got people to Scott’s Exile Tour locations. The barbecue made them stay.

“Twitter was just a mechanism,” said John T. Edge, a former food columnist at The New York Times. “The tool was the community. There were chefs involved from North Carolina to Louisiana. It was that tightly knit, though widely dispersed community that was the real tool in this.”

The South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism also found success marketing barbecue through social media and other, more traditional promotional tools. Approximately $4 million of the department’s $12 million in total marketing expenditures went to promoting the state’s barbecue this year, said spokesman Marion Edmonds.

Billboards in and around the state don photos of pulled pork sandwiches and ribs cloaked with sauce, prompting drivers to visit SCBBQTrail.com. The department has gotten over 200 solely barbecue restaurants in the state to agree to be on its barbecue map.

“We want to increase our focus on the undiscovered South Carolina,” Edmonds said. “A lot of the places thought there would be a response to the campaign, but they didn’t anticipate how significant it would be. When we offered some the opportunity to be on the trail and get involved, some were like, ‘Well, right now we have to get some coleslaw ready,’ or whatever. Once it got underway and they saw what kind of responses their fellow barbecue places were getting, that’s when we were flooded with folks who wanted to make sure they were included.”

The tourism department heard pitches from various agencies about what it could market that was special to South Carolina and would also encompass the entire state. Barbecue “seemed like a really great, fun way to do that,” Edmonds said.

The campaign started with the kickoff to football season, since barbecue is associated with football tailgating in the South. The tourism department put out tables at most South Carolina teams’ home games with information on the state’s barbecue. Airtime on the radio broadcast of the games was also purchased.

Like Scott’s Exile Tour, the tourism department focused on creating social media platforms for the campaign. People were encouraged to take pictures of themselves at barbecue restaurants in South Carolina and submit them to the campaign’s Facebook page or tweet them with #SCBBQ. SCBBQTrail.com also has videos about competitions in South Carolina, an explanation of the state’s four different sauces and printable SC BBQ Trail maps. One of the goals was to provide resources for travel and food writers.

Paul Bessinger Sr., an owner of Maurice’s, said he was eager to be on the BBQ Trail when the tourism department reached out to him. Though Maurice’s is well known throughout the Midlands, Bessinger supports the campaign because of how it promotes the lesser-known barbecue gems of the state.

“Barbecue is one of the main small-business industries in South Carolina,” Bessinger said. “A lot of people have survived off barbecue. I eat barbecue every day, and there’s a lot of other people who do that too.”

He’s placed as much of emphasis on social media as the tourism department, hiring someone to promote Maurice’s on various platforms. Though it’s not something Bessinger takes an interest in, he sees the importance for the future of barbecue.

“It’s more for the next generation,” Bessinger said. “I’m getting a little old, but the next generation is going to have to run with it.”

Editors note: Isabelle Khurshudyan, who writes sports stories for The State, wrote this article for the Carolina Reporter, a publication of the University of South Carolina

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