The jour­ney of the man that they call Pen­guin Ed

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BROWN BAG STORY -

Pen­guin Ed.

Ev­ery­one knows the name. They know his smokey pork and char­broiled burg­ers. His bar­be­cue baked beans and loaded baked pota­toes. And of course they know the pen­guins.

But do they know Ed?

Born and raised in New York City, Ed­ward Knight moved to Kansas for school on a soc­cer schol­ar­ship. There he met his wife Diana, a Kansas na­tive and grad­u­ated with an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree, and even­tu­ally went to grad­u­ate school at Kansas State Univer­sity to be­come a teacher.

Af­ter a cou­ple years as a teacher, Knight moved out of the class­room and onto a con­struc­tion site for a con­struc­tion com­pany in Kansas City. But lit­tle did he know that be­gin­ning in the con­struc­tion busi­ness would lead him to the bar­be­cue world.

“I was in con­struc­tion and a good friend of mine, Dan Hank, liked smok­ing food and he en­tered the Amer­i­can Royal ev­ery year. I went with him one year and had a whole lot of fun. That’s where I got a good sense of what bar­be­cue was and what was good and what wasn’t,” Knight said.

“From there I got out of con­struc­tion and I went to work for KC Mas­ter­piece, they hired me to de­velop spe­cial prod­ucts. Things that I was mak­ing that they liked and they hired me and I could do what­ever I wanted. I went to fancy food shows; I had aprons and sauces that won and other things that I de­vel­oped,” Knight said.

The role of de­vel­op­ing spe­cial prod­ucts for KC Mas­ter­piece led to Knight go­ing all around the coun­try show­ing off his prod­ucts as well as serv­ing their food.

From a food and wine show in San Fran­cisco, to rent­ing a boat and go­ing out in the New York Har­bor to ex­pand the KC Mas­ter­piece brand. As well as make a trip down to Ari­zona to serve some of the Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest names.

“I worked on movies, Mur­phy’s Ro­mance in 1983, with Sally Field and James Gar­ner; that was awe­some. Got to see how a movie is put to­gether. While the movie was com­ing to­gether I cooked bar­be­cue for them. I cooked a whole cow and peeled 200 lbs of pota­toes, but un­for­tu­nately they didn’t eat any of it; it was all for show,” Knight said.

Knight laughed when he was say­ing that one of the spe­cial prod­ucts that he made was an apron called the ‘Bar­be­cue Sheriff’ that had a Sheriff star on the chest, and the two “guns” were two oven mitts that were vel­croed to the sides. Other de­vel­op­ments that he made were spe­cial sauces such as the ‘Spe­cial Re­serve Sauce’. Knight and two of his friends also made what was called the ‘Kansas City Three Pack,’ which were boxes of one KC Mas­ter­piece bot­tle of sauce, one Arthur Bryant’s and one bot­tle of Gates which are the top dogs in the Kansas City BBQ com­mu­nity.

Knight spoke fondly about Kansas City BBQ, which is known as one of the best bar­be­cue cities in the coun­try. One restau­rant in par­tic­u­lar was Arthur Bryant’s, who was a pi­o­neer for Kansas City bar­be­cue. Knight just raved about how the Arthur Bryant restau­rant was ran be­cause you will not be able to find a restau­rant (es­pe­cially one so pop­u­lar), do the things that Bryant did.

“He (Arthur Bryant) al­lowed peo­ple from the streets to come in and sit down at a ta­ble where peo­ple had left food and he let them fin­ish; that’s kind of unique and pretty cool in a way,” Knight

said.

When Diana re­ceived a job of­fer in North­west Arkansas, Ed stayed in the Kansas City metro for a lit­tle over a year un­til fi­nally mak­ing the move to be with his wife. But he wasn’t sure if he wanted to stay in the bar­be­cue busi­ness.

At first he drove a truck haul­ing lum­ber, then worked for whole­sale dis­trib­u­tors and other jobs.

Knight then be­gan work­ing at a restau­rant, where he re­al­ized that he no longer wanted to an­swer to any­one; he wanted to be the guy in charge. Whether that came with suc­cess or fail­ure.

“I said to a friend that I don’t care if I don’t make a lot of money, I want to be in charge of what hap­pens good or bad,” Knight said. He did ex­actly that, in fact, at first he was his only em­ployee.

In 1993, this week ac­tu­ally, there was no build­ing. Just a big bor­rowed tent and a bor­rowed smoker on High­way 265 and High­way 45. That is where ‘Ed’s Bar­be­cue’ be­gan.

Over the next cou­ple months, Ed up­graded from just a tent to a trailer and changed the name to ‘Crossroads Bar-B-Q’.

There were now three em­ploy­ees. Ed, Elaina, who was Ed’s best friends wife and a lo­cal high school kid.

In that small 8 x 10 trailer, there was only one rule: you get one com­plaint about the heat.

The trailer had no air con­di­tion, and with the com­bi­na­tion of the smoker and the out­side Arkansas heat, it was tough work­ing con­di­tions. Knight even looks back says, “If I were smarter I would have quit.” He said he re­ally wasn’t mak­ing any in­come for five years but, he kept at it and he was there every­day.

“I was there every­day. When it snowed two feet, I shov­eled the snow to make paths for peo­ple to get in. I think that is the rea­son that we did have such suc­cess was peo­ple could count on us. A lot of food trail­ers would just say that they weren’t open. So, from there it just grew,” Knight said.

And grow it did.

Many dif­fer­ent busi­nesses and restau­rants moved into that same lot on Mis­sion. But, none of them stuck. In­clud­ing larger restau­rant chains such as ‘Mazzio’s’ tried to call that cor­ner lot home but couldn’t suc­ceed.

When Crossroads Bar-B-Q moved out of the trailer and into a build­ing on that lot, more than scenery changed… the name did too. Ed’s ob­ses­sion with pen­guins be­gan when he learned about how pen­guins sur­vive in some of the world’s tough­est con­di­tions.

“They live in one of the in­hos­pitable places on the planet. Winds of 70-80 mph, tem­per­a­ture be­low zero; noth­ing else lives up there. They get through that by be­ing in a pack with as many as 100,000 of them. The males are the ones who in­cu­bate the eggs, the fe­males lay the eggs and they lay them on them top of their feet. The males march around the out­side perime­ter with the eggs on their feet, they go around once, twice and then they get to come into the cen­ter of the mass which is to­tal warm and nice. I think it’s a great metaphor for how our so­ci­ety should be, ev­ery­one work­ing to­gether that al­lows them to live in a place that oth­er­wise in un­liv­able,” Knight said.

Knight’s love for peo­ple is trans­lated through the three Pen­guin Ed’s lo­ca­tions in Fayet­teville. 230 S East Ave., where His­toric B& B used to re­side. 6347 W Wed­ing­ton Dr and also the orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion where just a man and his tent be­gan; 2773 E Mis­sion Blvd.

Ed Knight has been serv­ing his amaz­ing bar­be­cue to Fayet­teville na­tives and oth­ers for 24 years

SPE­CIAL TO NWA DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE

Pen­guin Ed’s has one of those menus where you can eat there every­day, and every­day get some­thing dif­fer­ent with the wide va­ri­ety of BBQ clas­sics.

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