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Cook-off leaves bad taste in mouths of vendors: Host of Carmel event dissolves, owing $30,000-plus

September 4, 2006

A failed barbecue and chili cook-off backed in part by owners of locally based Dick's Bodacious Bar-B-Q has left unpaid vendors hot under the collar.

Brothers Richard and David Allen, who franchise the Dick's concept of serving smoked, Texas-style meat, are among six partners in Bodacious Blues-B-Q LLC, which staged the May event in Carmel in 2005 and 2006.

The competition racked up more than $30,000 in losses, prompting organizers to drop plans for future events and begin the process of dissolving the business, said Will Doss, a lawyer and partner of the LLC. As a result, several vendors, including the event's organizer, are out thousands of dollars.

Doss said keeping the LLC going didn't make sense, because it would have accumulated even more debts, worsening the already bleak financial outlook.

"They just didn't feel it made sense to increase ... negative feelings in the community unless they were absolutely certain debts would get paid off, and they couldn't reach that certainty," Doss said of the other partners. "They understand it is not a great thing to do, but they also didn't want to make things worse."

This year's Bodacious Blues-B-Q, a cook-off and music festival, attracted roughly 40 participants from across the country, but a drop in attendance, decreased sponsorships and cost overruns contributed to its demise, Doss said.

Some of the problems could have been avoided, according to the event's planner, Kari Eisenhooth, if organizers had followed her advice.

For instance, the partnership required food vendors to give 20 percent of sales to the LLC. But Eisenhooth, who operates locally based Exclamation Point Events Inc., suggested it also charge a $500 booth fee she said is common for such events. She is owed $2,400 and is considering legal action.

"It's pretty much standard protocol that when vendors come in and sell food, you don't let them sell for free," she said. "[The event] was a big, discombobulated mess."

Eisenhooth also had warned against extending the festival into Sunday, a day that traditionally attracts fewer patrons. This year's three-day event attracted 4,000 to 5,000 people, she estimated, with Sunday's crowd dismal. Despite the sparse crowd, the event was stuck with the bill to provide entertainment for the day.

Eisenhooth said she had previously worked with many of the vendors and had recruited them to participate in the Bodacious Blues-B-Q. She's fretting over potential fallout, fearing her relationship with them has been damaged to the point they might be reluctant to work with her on future events.

Locally based Industrial Electrical Contractors Inc. provided power for the cook-off and is owed nearly $13,000. Coowner Michael Harris received two letters from the LLC, one warning vendors of the financial problems and a second informing them of the decision to dissolve the organization.

The first letter asks debtors to be patient, in a threatening sort of way.

"If those whom we owe were to insist on immediate payment, we would be forced to take financial steps that we do not want to take, the result of which would be no payment for anyone," the letter said.

Harris, who normally conducts business with a handshake, said he might start demanding payment prior to service.

"I'm looking for some sort of recourse," he said.

Doss maintained the partnership did its best to bring competitive barbecuing to central Indiana and suggested that vendors would be wasting their time trying to recoup costs.

"It does not make sense to throw good money after bad, as Bodacious Blues BQ LLC is completely without funds or assets, leaving no ability to pay any of its outstanding obligations," he wrote in the second letter to vendors.

Last year's event was held at Carmel Civic Square, part of the hub the north-side suburb is attempting to create with its City Center project. This year's event moved to nearby Third Avenue Southwest and City Center Drive, which Carmel officials thought would be more suitable, Doss said.

The city gave the Carmel Arts Council $18,000 this year to support entertainment activities, some of which helped support the barbecue and chili cook-off. City spokeswoman Nancy Heck said officials were pleased with the event and were unaware of the financial problems.

The Kansas City Barbecue Society, which annually sanctions more than 200 contests throughout the United States, backed the cook-off in Carmel. Prize money this year totaled $11,000.

Orestes-based Red Gold Inc. was the major sponsor for this year's competition.
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