The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - FRONT PAGE - By Jen­nifer Biggs

About seven years ago, Seth Agra­nov was wet and cold, camp­ing out at the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion to reg­is­ter a child for school. A friend showed up to feed him, bring­ing a Colos­sus burger from the now­closed 3 An­gels Diner. It not only nour­ished his body and soothed his soul, but it also launched a hobby that turned into a fes­ti­val that cel­e­brates its fifth an­niver­sary Sun­day.

“That was the best burger, for so many rea­sons, and I knew right then I was go­ing to start a blog,” Agra­nov said.

Back at work that Mon­day, he told co-worker Tim James.

“We eat lunch to­gether all the time, so it made sense that we’d do this to­gether,” Agra­nov said.

They bought the do­main best­mem­phis­ and started eat­ing burg­ers, blog­ging about them and rat­ing them on a five-star scale. Af­ter about a year, the idea for Best Mem­phis Burger Fes­ti­val came to them — af­ter they com­peted at the South­ern Hot Wing Fes­ti­val.

So Agra­nov tweeted. “He sent out a mes­sage that if you wanted to be in­volved with some­thing new and ex­cit­ing, to get in on the ground floor, show up for a meet­ing,” said Teddy Gor­man, a vol­un­teer who an­swered the call. “There were about 25 or so of us there at that first meet­ing, and about five or six left when the fes­ti­val started.” Back to the hot wings: “We were with some friends and hap­pened to be set up by Mrs. (Tawanda) Pir­tle, and some of my friends were a lit­tle rowdy, but she was fun and took it all in good fun,” Agra­nov said.

“When we were look­ing for spon­sors, I called her and asked her if she re­mem­bered me and sort of tried to apol­o­gize for my friends, but she was great. She asked how much we needed, and I told her we thought $2,500 to put it to­gether. Within a few hours, she called back and said they were in for all of it. I couldn’t believe it.” Co-founder Tim James still thinks it’s funny. “We have other spon­sors now, but they’re still our main one,” James said. “A chicken com­pany spon­sor­ing a burger fes­ti­val.”

The first year, the fes­ti­val was held in the park­ing lot of Min­gle­wood Hall on a wet, chilly Sun­day. There were 26 teams, a few food trucks here and there, and about 1,500 peo­ple showed up. Af­ter two more years in the park­ing lot, it was clear they had to move — more teams, more than dou­ble the num­ber of peo­ple, more com­pe­ti­tions — so last year they set up at Tiger Lane.

But it was in Oc­to­ber, and the day was gray, cold and wet. At­ten­dance was flat. This year, they moved the fes­ti­val up to Au­gust, and they have tweaked things here and there.

“It’ s ba­si­cally the same, but big­ger,” James said. “We have about 40 teams and about 20 ven­dors — food trucks, beer stands and so on.”

There’s more mu­sic, they’ll have Pokes­tops in­side Tiger Lane, 901Rocks have been farmed, and there’s a Snapchat fil­ter you can put on your pho­tos when you’re in­side the ge­ofence (roughly East Park­way to the west, the Lib­erty Bowl to the east, Cen­tral to the north and the Pip­kin build­ing to the south).

There will be also plenty of eat­ing com­pe­ti­tions, and the Kid­zone is back.

Win­ners can qual­ify for an en­try to the World Food Cham­pi­onship.

“It was crazy ,” Agra­nov said. “The first year, be­fore we even started, some­one called me to tell me that they sanc­tioned the event for World Food, and they gave us one ticket. This year we have three we can give out.”

The cat­e­gories have changed a lit­tle. They did away with the Any­thing But and have added The Clas­sic, which lim­its condi­ments to mus­tard, ketchup, may­on­naise, pickle and onion. “Here it will be all about the blend of meat, the sea­son­ing and the cheese,” Gor­man said.

Other cat­e­gories in­clude The Spe­cialty, Veg­gie Burger and the very pop­u­lar Bloody Mary con­test.

The team with the high­est ag­gre­gate score (most com­pete in all cat­e­gories) will be named grand cham­pion of Best Mem­phis Burger 2016.

All the money, as it has ev­ery year, goes to an­i­mal res­cue causes.

Af­ter the first year, Agra­nov and James founded Mem­phis Paws, a non­profit they ad­min­is­ter. They can give the money they col­lect to other res­cue groups or pay it di­rect for ve­teri­nary care on a case-by­case re­view.

“We love dogs,” James said. “I know I can’t foster ev­ery dog in the world, but we knew we could help.”

“We f ig­ured with the amount of money we would raise, well, it wouldn’t be that much to some other very worth­while causes, but it could go a long way to­ward help­ing an­i­mals,” Agra­nov said. “We’ve do­nated more than $30,000 since we started.”

The amount of money raised de­pends mostly on at­ten­dance, though teams are en­cour­aged to give away sam­ples of food in ex­change for small do­na­tions that they’ll turn over at the end of the day (and meat has been do­nated to the teams to help them off­set the cost).

So how many peo­ple are ex­pected this year?

“We’re hop­ing for 5,000,” Agra­nov said. “We’re pray­ing for 10,000, and we’re ter­ri­fied of 20,000. But wouldn’t that be great for the dogs?”

Young­sters sink their teeth into the Kids’ Pickle Eat­ing Con­test, which is a tra­di­tion at the Best Mem­phis Burger Fes­ti­val. The chil­dren’s event will be­gin at 1 p.m. Sun­day.


Com­peti­tors con­spire to come up with en­tries that are eye-cathc­ing as well as tasty. The Best Mem­phis Burger Fes­ti­val will be 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sun­day at the Tiger Lane. Gen­eral ad­mis­sion tick­ets are $10 and funds raised go to an­i­mal res­cue ef­forts.


Ja­cob Samuels (from left), Mar­cus Moss, Adam Ex­el­bierd, An­drew Mag­dovitz, Brad Jolly, Mered­ith Parker and Brian Ber­nat­shy were at the 2015 Best Mem­phis Burger Fes­ti­val.

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