A Brief History of The National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show
By Dave DeWitt
In 1987, two things happened that would change my life forever. That was the year that three of us launched Chile Pepper magazine as a quarterly, and it’s still being published today—by other people. But being editor enabled me to have a platform and sell book after book about chiles and spicy foods. The other thing that happened that year was that I saw a tabletop display of Old El Paso products at the New Mexico Chile Conference, and that got me thinking. I had been a show producer for years, doing mostly custom car shows, and as I drove back to Albuquerque, I had the idea for a show about spicy foods.
I told my wife about the idea when I got back. She was teaching at Manzano High School, but had the summer free, and as it turned out, she was a remarkably good phone sales person. We decided to launch the show in a hotel venue because we had no idea how it would go, and the Convention Center was too big and expensive for us. The show was held in the fall of 1988, and we had 47 exhibitors and attendance of only about 500 people, but everyone loved the show and considered it a success. We made a net profit of about a hundred dollars. Hey, it was a start.
We stayed in hotel venues for another couple of years as the show grew. After we doubled exhibitors in our third year, we moved it to a small venue of about 15,000 square feet at the Albuquerque Convention Center, and attendance doubled. The following year, we took a 30,000 square foot hall and nearly filled it. Time went by, attendance grew, and the Convention Center built the east complex and we moved to a 60,000 square foot hall in it. Attendance at this time was about 10,000 people, and Budweiser, through their New Mexico distributor, became a major sponsor and remains so today. We stayed in the Southeast Hall for over a decade and attendance grew to 15,000.
Soon, a new opportunity presented itself. The biggest casino in New Mexico, Sandia Resort and Casino, expanded and had an exhibit hall plus meeting rooms and two large lobbies. I contacted them and they offered us a deal: free rent for three years if we would relocate the show. Who wouldn’t take an offer like that? We moved and the first year, attendance increased 38 percent.
We’re still there, looking forward to the exhibit hall’s expansion in 2017. During Saturday morning’s opening, about 3,000 people are lined up to come in, and we fill up the entire parking lot for 2,000 cars, and the gamblers complained about not finding a parking space. So what did the casino do, kick us back to the Convention Center? No, they’re building a 2,500-car parking deck that will open in time for our 2015 show.
The appeal of the show is so broad that it’s difficult to pinpoint demographics. We used to have more men than women attend the show, but now it’s 50-50—and that’s true for exhibitors, too. And I would estimate that a third of all exhibitors sell out of all the products they brought to the show.
These days we have about 200 exhibitors and attendance of 20,000 over the three days of the show. We have exhibitors and attendees from all over the world, and get massive national publicity. We use a top-notch ad agency and PR company to get the publicity and attendance, and we produce cooking demonstrations to entertain the public. I do probably twelve to fifteen TV and radio interviews during the show, where it’s being like a mayor of a small city for three days. It sure is fun.
Sunbelt Shows Staff
Dave DeWitt, President
Mary Jane Wilan, Vice President
Emily DeWitt-Cisneros, Show Producer
Hans Wressnigg, Media Director