Stephen Ascuaga smiled as he recalled a recent instance exemplifying the impact that his family’s biggest annual event has made throughout its 25-year history. Ascuaga said a gentleman in the Bay Area, upon discovering his Reno roots, said, ‘Is that barbeque event coming up? We haven’t been for a couple years, but we are coming this year.’
The interest in the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off made Ascuaga realize how much the event means to the national public, locals and the northern Nevada region. Those feelings were shared with sponsors and community supporters Wednesday afternoon at the Nugget when Ascuaga and his team unveiled some of the changes upcoming for the event’s 25th anniversary event, beginning Aug. 28 in downtown Sparks.
A notable layout change for the 25th annual event will move four of the 24 rib competition vendors from the east end of Victorian Avenue to Victorian Plaza near the movie theater. The vacant spot will be filled with crafters and vendors during the six-day event, which Ascuaga said brings a couple improvements to the event.
“We are pretty much maxed out space wise,” Ascuaga said Wednesday. “What we have found with various issues involving the fire department, restaurants and in terms of access to get product to restaurants, as well as crowd flow, and the improvements to the plaza, we wanted to make a few changes.
“I think it is going to let the event breathe a little better, I think it is going to accommodate the crowds better and I think it is going to help us for any type of emergency access or servicing things. It makes for better access to garbage removal points and keeps with the safety of the event. It really is going to have a nice feel and the restaurants will have a great feel and it will be a big hit.”
A study done two years ago showed a $24.8 million impact to the northern Nevada economy and in 2012 about 225,000 pounds of ribs cycled through Victorian Square. Numbers like those, combined with reaching the quarter-century mark of the Rib Cook-Off, prompted the Nugget to create a face for the event. This brought the birth of a new mascot, ‘Mr. Ribster,’ who will appear on Victorian Square during scheduled appearances this year.
The rarest of new features will bring Maker’s Mark, a Kentucky Bourbon company, to Sparks where a unique 25th anniversary commemoration will grace bottles of the company’s whisky. The hand-dipped wax atop the bottles will have a Rib Cook-Off stamp for guests to purchase and the dipping will take place live inside Rib Village, a rare act for the Kentucky establishment.
Among the new features to the event, the Rib Cook-Off will bring back popular events, including the Rib Eating Contest on opening night where the world’s top competitive eater, Joey Chestnut, will defend his crown. Judging will be done Sunday for the 24 barbeque vendors, competing for a total purse of $14,500 and live entertainment will occur throughout the week on both ends of Victorian Square, which Ascuaga said totals about $100,000 in free entertainment.
“There is something about the event and the way it has evolved where it puts the stamp that summer is wrapping up and we are heading into fall, and it is a great way to wrap things up,” Ascuaga said. “It is a little emotional, though, seeing 25 years of all the stories and characters that have come and gone, different cookers and bands. It has been good to see it grow. It really makes you feel good to see everybody enjoy it so much.”
That emotion was shared among the Ascuaga family Wednesday afternoon as John Ascuaga took the podium to accept a 9.5-pound, 168 troy-ounce solid silver pig from the Nugget. The silver trophy, according to Director of Marketing Beth Cooney, will compliment the Nugget’s golden rooster currently displayed in the hotel’s lobby.
“I just can’t say what this means to me ... and it really means to me more than anything,” John said as he continually glanced at his silver pig and his two children standing behind him. “Our staff from bottom to top is dedicated to this operation and that is why the Rib Cook-Off is so successful.”
Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung said following Wednesday's kick-off appreciation luncheon that the Rib Cook-Off has built a large reputation that northern Nevada has maintained. He added that the community of Sparks, and the surrounding areas, have chipped in to keep the event healthy.
“It is a city event, but it really is a northern Nevada event and brings so many people to our region,” Hartung said. “It is a truly wonderful event that has established us in the west as a place that holds unusual events. There are very few other cities that have events like the Rib Cook-Off, Hot August Nights and the other events they do downtown. It is an event that brings people out west who would not necessarily come here.
“It is truly a team effort and the Nugget does an amazing job. And, as they mentioned, it is the City of Sparks coming together. I think it has morphed into something they never imagined it would turn into.”
More information about the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, including free shuttle services, rib vendors, entertainment lineups and times, can be found at www.nuggetribcookoff.com.