CITY OF TONAWANDA — Now six years into his smoke-saturated labor of love, Honcho Gregory has only fueled the fire toward his culinary goals for the Twin Cities.
The organizer of the Smokin Eagles International BBQ Festival appears well on his way to his dreams of making the Tonawandas the barbecue capital of the northern United States.
The festival continues to gain attention. It was recently recognized by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a New York state championship barbecue event. The Kansas City and New England barbecue societies have sanctioned event during the three-day festival, as well.
Gregory appreciated the support. Last year saw an attendance downturn due to inclement weather, but he expects to easily surpass the roughly 28,000 people who attended the festival in 2011.
“This will probably double our size,” he said.
That would be a big step for the festival, which began in 2008 at The Summit in Wheatfield. Gregory started the festival thinking it would be along the lines of the Taste of Buffalo, except devoted solely to barbecue. The event moved to Gateway Harbor in 2010 and has happily delighted canal-goers with savory barbecue smoke ever since.
But Gregory doesn’t want the festivals growth to outpace its capacity. He maintains a strict cap on the number of vendors who can take part.
“We’re happy where it’s at,” he said. “If it goes too big too fast, it’ll grow out of control.”
There’s also been growth barbecue’s popularity as a food genre in the past few years locally — something Gregory thinks is due at least in small part to Smoking Eagles. Barbecue mainstays like Suzy-Q’s Bar-B-Que Shack in the Town of Tonawanda, One-Eyed Jack’s in Lockport and the Brickyard Pub and BBQ in the Village of Lewiston are among the top draws in their communities among diners. And Buffalo will welcome one of the Northeast’s foremost barbecue chains in October. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is set to move into the Entertainment District, and developer Mark Croce feels the restaurant can become the biggest draw in the city and one of the highest-grossing restaurants in all of Western New York.