The downtown core was awash in the scent of barbecue Thursday as the 2016 London Ribfest officially kicked off in Victoria Park.
Organizers expect about 200,000 people to come out for this year’s edition of the festival which runs from Thursday through holiday Monday.
Ten pro ribbers from across North America are taking part in the festival, and are stationed along a section of Wellington Street nicknamed ‘Ribber Row.’
One of the rib vendors at the festival, Ribs Royale BBQ, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“We do smoke them for the longest out of any others, for close to five, six hours,” said Dominik Wysokinski who works at the Ribs Royale stand. “The way we test ‘em is we grab the rib itself, and if the bone’s falling off, that’s how we know it’s good.”
Ribs Royale BBQ took part in last year’s London Ribfest, and took home the coveted “People’s Choice – Best Ribs” award.
When a reporter made note of the large number of trophies on display outside the stand, Wysokinski interjected “that’s not even everything! We have more than that, we just can’t put out any more tables!”
While trophies are utilized as a way to draw ribgoers in, it isn’t the only way.
“What’s the call, as far as getting people in? Do you have a call?” asked a reporter.
“Oh yeah!” Wysokinski replied. “Come get lost in the sauce, let it drip down your lip, and wipe it up with a rib, eh?”
It apparently worked on Londoner Jeremy Murphy, who came to the festival for a bite to eat with two others and bought ribs from Ribs Royale.
“The guy reeled me in,” Murphy said with a laugh. “It was great, I loved it.”
“Did [Ribs Royale] exceed expectations?” a reporter asked.
“I would go back there, yeah,” Murphy said.
In addition to ribs, music, rides, craft vendors, and around 100 other food booths are set up at the festival, including a Vegan Pavilion.
At the north end of the park, the London Western Track and Field Club held its first ever ‘Vault the Park,’ a street pole vault competition along Central Avenue.
“With it being an Olympic year, we thought it was a great opportunity to expose the general public to one of the events in our sport, being pole vault,” said Club President and Manager Derrick Johnston.
“For the non-sport person, it’s probably the most exciting event in track and field, I mean everyone wants to see the 100-metre race, but pole vault competitions are pretty exciting to watch and aren’t too difficult to set up in a non-track and field venue,” Johnston said.
High school and Canadian Interuniversity Sport athletes took part in the competition, as did London’s Alysha Newman. Newman will travel to the Rio Olympics next month to represent Canada.
Johnston says events similar to Vault the Park have taken place in other cities.
“Windsor’s done an event in downtown Windsor for the past couple years, and they’ve done a great job down there, and we wanted to try and bring that to London as well,” he said.
“To team up with Ribfest and take advantage of the crowd that they’re getting is huge for us. At the same time, this is day one of the Ribfest and, you know, it’s a bit of a slower day for them in terms of how busy it’ll be on the weekend, so hopefully we can provide a bit of an entertainment value-add and bring more traffic downtown to the Ribfest.”
Ribfest runs 11a.m. to 11p.m. from Thursday through Monday.
(With files from Matthew Trevithick, Tom Fraser, Natalie Lovie)