Bernie Gerl gets his ribs operation set up for Friday - he was here when the first Rotarian Ribfest took place in 1996.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

August 31st, 2017



The equipment is being set up – the signage is in place.

The Camp 31 people did a test run on Tuesday when they fed the people who took part in the Rotary Ribfest Kick off.

Ribfest - Feeding the Rotarians

Rotarians get a free lunch and a bottle of the famous Camp 31 BBQ sauce

Bernie Gerl, chief “ribber” was at a table giving Rotarians and media people a sample of his famous BBQ Sauce.
What made the occasion significant is that the Camp 31 people were one of the “ribbers” on site in 1969 – 22 years ago, when the Rotary thought BBQ’s were a good fund raising idea

How the Lakeshore Rotarian’s pulled it off.

Bernie takes credit for introducing smoked BBQ ribs to the people of Burlington. No one knew at the time that the idea would take and that Burlington would end up being home to the biggest RibFest in Canada.

Ribfest - signage going up

Camp 31 signage going up for the 22nd time.  Organization ha a Canadian base in Ancaster and in Brewton, Alabama

Ribbers are sort of like gypsies – they move from location to location through a time arc that begins in May and ends sometime late in September. We started in Miramichi in New Brunswick this year said Bernie Gerl.

Their roots go back to 1908 when they were known as the Saw Mill, a general store in  Brewton, Alabama.  In 1985 Larry Murphy created Camp 31 as a BBQ operation that served authentic southern BBQ

In 1986 Murphy got some help from the Brewton Police department who helped them enter their first BBQ cook off in Pensacola Florida where the won three first place trophies.  They have been serving up authentic southern BBQ ever since.

The store, still in place, is now headquarters for the American side of the award-winning cook off team. Look for us at an event near you!

Bernie explains that Ribfests are totally reliant on weather. Cold weather – people don’t show up – rain – even fewer people show up and if it is too hot – people don’t have appetites.

The bulk of the “ribbers” come from the American south where the food is part of the culture.

They have been doing it for years – it has grown to the point where it is a competitive event.

Bernie was in Burlington for that first event in 1969 – it was a single day and it rained – but it worked. The Lakeshore Rotarians saw that it was going to work – they reached their target of an $800 profit in that first year.

Bernie has an operation in Ancaster – Camp 31 is also a restaurant. The equipment is all custom made and the operation is finely tuned. The public is protected – the Health department does checkups every day.

These “ribbers” are professionals – they are quite a bit more than a bunch of “good old boys” who like to get out and on the road.

Ribfest Setting up - behind

Everything gets packed into a fleet of trucks an assembled at each location. Everyone pitches in.

The Camp 31 operation is a family affair with wives, grown children, nephews and nieces making the event work smoothly.

The operation in Canada means that we don’t have to truck everything up from the United States. Bernie has issues with the Custom people – doesn’t feel “ribbers” get the respect they deserve.

Rib fest - Lori Gerl

Bernie’s wife Lori – can handle a barrel just as well as she handles him.

Bernie met his wife Lori at a restaurant the two of them worked at – they’ve been in the food business together ever since.

Each year the Camp 31 organization drops two of the locations it visits and adds two new ones.

“We did the Woodbine raceway this year for the first time – Bernie will not be doing that again. “I have a rule” explained Bernie – if the name Ribfest isn’t in the event – I shouldn’t be there”.

He forgot that rule – and won’t be returning to Woodbine again.

Camp 31 is one of the bigger rib operations – ten people travel “we pick up about five people at each location”, he said.

Most of their American locations are in Florida and adjacent States.

While the business is focused on ribs – Bernie thinks he should be getting credit for introducing “pulled pork” to the city as well. “We had it on our menus in the States for years but we had to give it away to create the market in this country.

Same with brisket he adds. “Been serving that up to the good folks south of the border for years – it has begun to become popular in Canada”, he adds.

While the team gets the equipment set up Bernie looks out over the lake – sees nothing but good weather with a nice breeze coming in off the water and thinks he has a successful event coming his way.

There are a lot of very small, what Berni calls “lone wolf operators” getting into the business. Don’t get Bernie started on those guys. “Bunch of cowboys who don’t know what they are doing” he says dismissively.

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