Thousands of people will fill the streets of Uptown Lexington this Saturday to celebrate just one thing: barbecue.
Lexington is often called the “Barbecue Capital of the World,” and its festival Saturday could bring 200,000 people. The state’s passenger rail service is offering a one-day stop for the occasion. Visitors even fly in. It’s a big deal.
Four restaurants will be serving food this year: Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro, Smokey Joe’s Barbecue, Speedy’s Barbecue and The Barbecue Center. These longtime establishments have participated in the festival for at least the past 25 years, organizers say.
Some, like The Barbecue Center, have been there for all 39 festivals. Cecil Conrad and his family are the owners, and he said the festival is the busiest day of the year for most merchants and restaurants.
“We continue to feed off the festival the rest of the year," he says. "If people saw something and weren't able to see it that day, they'll come back at other times of the year when it may be a little less crowded. So the festival kind of keeps giving all year round.”
Several longtime Lexington-style barbecue restaurants in the area have closed within the past couple of years.
Coming out of the pandemic, restaurants have faced staffing shortages, inflated prices, supply chain issues, the list goes on, says festival coordinator Stephanie Saintsing Naset.
“It’s difficult when restaurants close, especially ones with Lexington-style barbecue legacy attached to the name,” she says.
Saintsing Naset says that none of the closed businesses have been recent providers to the festival.