April 2, 2018 – There are many reasons why the small Florida town of Lake Clarke Shores is unique, but none more impressive than when town leaders put on what is said to be the largest barbeque party by any municipality in the state. This year marks a quarter century of using pulled pork to pull together the community.
The Lake Clarke Shores Annual Town Barbeque began in 1993. What started out as a small idea by a town council member to bring neighbors together is now a multi-day event serving 3,400 residents of one of the smallest Southeast Floridatowns. It is believed to be the largest municipal-organized barbeque across the State of Florida. The barbeque has grown to the springtime hot spot where politicians shake hands and residents are treated to recipes so good they have earned perfect scores at international competitions.
This year’s event, scheduled for April 8th takes months of planning. Like generals organizing a military offensive, town staff and a select group of resident Captains meet for months to hammer out details. After 25 years, the scale has grown to include 1100 pounds of pork, 800 pounds of chicken, 200 pounds of catfish, 720 hot dogs and cases of beans, slaw, rolls and homemade desserts and ice cream. An army of nearly 200 volunteers is recruited and the cooking begins days before the event.
“Our residents wait all year for this,” said Mayor Gregory Freebold. “This is our time to celebrate Lake Clarke Shores. We come together as a community, reconnect with neighbors, and remind ourselves of what makes this town such a special place to live.”
Building community bonds is what the barbeque is all about, say town leaders. It is also why only town residents may attend. Officials say the barbeque is about celebrating the people of Lake Clarke Shores. Each home receives two free tickets. Additional tickets can be purchased. While minimal, any proceeds go back to the town to help cover costs.
Twenty-five years ago, as a newly-elected Council member, Robert Shalhoub saying he wanted to bring the community together borrowed a single cooker and a cooler filled with cutlets and hot dogs. The town had just completed a contentious election punctuated by an unusual level of rancor and Shalhoub wanted to heal wounds. He never imagined his gesture would last over two decades.
“I never believed this would grow into what it has become,” said President Pro-Tem Shalhoub. “I wanted to do something nice for the people that elected me. Today, this barbeque has taken on a life of its own. It is not just about great food. It is about renewing the spirit of our community.” It is that same spirit of community that drives all of the volunteers and sponsors involved in the event and those that attend the barbeque.