Back in 2011, I started a small blog centered around my love for hamburgers. Shortly after and together with the help of some incredible people, we launched the Best Memphis Burger Fest. I never in a million years would have guessed that buying a domain name would have led any of us to where we are today. Over the past six years, Burger Fest has become a passion and a love affair of mine. I’ve put everything into it and in return, it’s paid me back with a renewed faith and admiration for this great city, a love for the people in it and amazement at my own abilities to make a difference, even on a small scale. Burger Fest has rooted me even deeper into the fabric of this community and I proudly proclaim that I Love Memphis, I Choose 901 and I am Memphis As Fuck.
Along this journey, I have had the honor and pleasure of working with great people like Timothy James, Jesse Hays, Teddy Gorman, Nathan Tipton, Christopher Schmidt, Nikki Thompson, JC Youngblood, Stephanie Bennett, David Cole, Susan Mealer, Justin Lawhead, Mary Collins, Michelle O’Guinn, Sherman Snyder, Todd Shapiro, Carl Cottam, Sarah Baker, David Cash, Heather Nordtvedt and so many more. I’m not sure how we all came together, but I believe God gave you all to me because He knew that I needed a miracle. You all are my miracle. My Burger Squad. I love each and every one of you!
Additionally, the relationships I’ve forged with local businesses who have supported both me and this great event continue to amaze me. Tawanda & Cordell Pirtle, Lorie Hudson, Darin & Kristen McDonald, Louis Costabile, Greg Gruber, Marshall Robertson, John Adams, Oscar Vego, Bill Webb, Dave Turner, Rocky Kasaftes, Jesse Keenan, Ryan Staggs, Trey DeHart, and Jimmy Shotwell are just some of the people whose generosity to Burger Fest each year humbles me to tears. I’m proud to call you all friends, although I feel like we’re even closer than that.
Finally, my love and respect for the men and women on Burger Fest cooking teams is simply unmatched. Regardless of the weather I can always count on my teams to show up ready to pitch a tent, light a grill, crack a beer and cook like there’s no tomorrow. They’re on board with everything asked of them and they’ve helped raise money like my cause was their cause. Regardless of placement and prizes, we have all been part of one team, the Burger Fest Team! The honor has been mine.
Burger Fest has taught me so much. Today I know who to call for tents and a stage, where to get event insurance, how to file for permits and street closures, where to find grants, solicit sponsorships and build relationships with other event promoters. I know where to rent generators, waste cans, bathrooms and golf carts. I’ve learned how to back-up and park something hitched to my truck. I’ve formed relationships with musicians, sound engineers, DJs, caterers, security professionals, EMTs, merchandise vendors, tee shirt designers, face painters, henna artists, sign & screen printers, food truck operators, accountants and attorneys. I have connections to photographers, videographers, drone operators, radio station personalities and billboard companies. I know what crop marks and bleed are. I know the difference between a JPG and an EPS, where to get ATM machines and how to drive a fork lift. I’ve rented trucks and know the benefit of having a lift gate. I know how to form a LLC and a 501 (c) (3) charity. I have more pop-up tents, corn-hole sets and 6 foot tables than any one person should own. My wife would argue I have way too many tee shirts as well.
Most importantly though, Burger Fest has shown me the importance of giving back. Over the past six years, our non-profit, Memphis Paws has donated about $50,000 to animal care organizations like Spay Memphis and rescues like Street Dog Foundation, Tunica Humane Society, Fayette County Animal Rescue, Alive Memphis Rescue, Hearts of Gold Pitfall Rescue, Memphis Pets Alive, Tails of Hope Dog Rescue, Desoto Animal Rescue Society, The Savior Foundation and Memphis Area Golden Retriever Rescue. We have saved so many dogs and cats. As a dog rescuer, a husband and a father to two young men, this is the legacy I am the proudest of. This is the legacy of Burger Fest – We didn’t just grill burgers or throw a party, we made a difference.
I started Burger Fest with a goal in mind and a dream of what it one day could be. As a fundraiser and cooking competition, it has far surpassed all my goals. As for my dream, it remains just that for now. I am content knowing I never said, “what if I …” or “I wish I had…”
For the past several years, I’ve felt that If I can, I must, and if it was something I wanted, no hurdle was too high. With the help of some great aforementioned people, we went all-in and made it a reality. After all, If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.
Recently though I have come to understand, that just because I can, doesn’t necessarily mean I should. Sadly, Burger Fest attendance and participation have decreased. We’re donating less money this year and to fewer charities, but all the while working just as hard if not harder and paying more than ever for services and rentals. I believed it would get easier each year, but it never did. Now I’m seeing Burger Fest begin to grow stale and the jump start or reboot that it needs is one that I’m not prepared to dedicate any more of my time to. It’s already taken so much of me from my family.
I will miss it like nothing else, but I feel strongly that the time to walk away is now. I have no regrets. On the contrary, I have a heart overflowing with love for the people, organizations and teams associated with Burger Fest and those that helped me reach all my festival goals. Maybe I did live my dream? Nonetheless, I am proud to step off this ride knowing that what I may have created very quickly grew into something way bigger than me. I owe everything to you all – my family, my friends, my sponsors, my teams, my Burger Squad, my Memphis.
The amazing thing about giving is that it becomes addictive. I can never stop giving back to the city that has given me so much. I’d like to remain involved with Memphis Paws and continue to be a part of the local food scene. I still think the best is yet to come. I’m also happy to make all my resources available to anyone interested in continuing Best Memphis Burger Fest. I really hope someone does.
Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Today, I am smiling!
To you all and for all you’ve done – I am forever grateful. The unknown is exciting. I look forward to sharing it with you.
President, Memphis Paws, Inc.
Founder & Director, Best Memphis Burger Fest