The journey of the man that they call 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
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
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.