Born to barbecue

Unique mascot, welcoming staff enhance atmosphere of local eatery

Posted: January 12, 2014 at 6 a.m.

Penguin Ed’s Bar-B-Q is a locally owned and operated restaurant that came from humble beginnings. What began as an impromptu enterprise under a borrowed tent has grown into a business with a loyal patronage and three permanent locations in Fayetteville.

The intrigue of the penguin mascot, along with the backstory of owner Ed Knight, cultivate a personal connection between the staff, customers and restaurant. In fact, a large photo album stuffed with newspaper clippings, photographs and anecdotes about the journey sits on a coffee table at the original Mission Boulevard location.

The story of Ed Knight and his wife, Diane, is not obscure or strikingly unusual, but that is part of the charm. People can relate to a feel-good story of a hard-working family.

When Diane Knight took a job in Northwest Arkansas, Ed Knight traveled from their home in Kansas City to visit her on the weekends. Allured by the beauty and potential of the Ozarks, he left behind his corporate job and followed his heart to Fayetteville.

Ed Knight has a diverse history of professional pursuits, including architect, truck driver, food salesman and, at one point, even a soccer goalkeeper. When he arrived in Fayetteville, traditional employment opportunities weren’t readily available.

Channeling his ingenuity and inspiration, Knight used his experience in professional barbecue competitions and as a former employee at KC Masterpiece to develop consistent, flavorful recipes that became the foundation for Penguin Ed’s Bar-B-Que.

He borrowed and set up a tent on the corner of Crossover Road and Mission Boulevard. He began with a limited menu and the intention of serving home-smoked barbecue to the working lunch crowd.

On the first day he was to open, Knight was told that the sandwich shop on that corner had exclusive rights to food sales on that land. Without missing a beat, he packed up his offerings, moved to the adjacent corner and staked his claim on the parking lot that eventually became the first brick-and-mortar restaurant.

It was three years before Penguin Ed’s graduated from the tent to a building. In those years, Knight operated out of a small trailer, years ahead of the popular boom of food trucks.

In his downtime, Knight started to craft a fleet of emperor penguins from papier mache. He would place the penguins around the trailer and perch them in different places each day. It began as a quirky craft and grew into a cult following.

Knight never expected the penguins to have such an impact, but the customers adored the quirky mascots and began referring to the formerly named Crossroads Bar-B-Q as Penguin Ed’s.

People started to bring Knight all sizes of penguin novelties. Today, there is a fanatic collection on display throughout the restaurants. It contends for the largest collection of penguin novelties in the country.

It wasn’t only the penguins that got Knight’s business attention — it was also his food.

Slow-smoked, hickory-enhanced ribs and chicken were staples, and as business grew, so did the offerings. Smoked meats now include beef brisket, chopped beef, pork shoulder, pulled pork, and pulled chicken, and at some locations ham, Polish sausage and hot links.

Each location has a slightly different menu, although all offer more than barbecue. There are burgers, wings, salads and baked goods, including “Audrey’s Infamous Cookies.”

The loaded baked potato is a one-pound Idaho spud served with butter, sour cream, mushrooms, broccoli, cheddar, bacon and ranch.

Hot sub sandwiches include the turkey-bacon club or Philly steak.

A vegetarian menu served at the Mission Boulevard and Wedington Drive locations includes a house salad with grilled portobellos, veggie sub, garden burger or black bean veggie burger.

Bulk meat can be ordered as a quarter-pound, half-pound or pound and side items can be ordered by half-pint, pint, quart or gallon.

Family Packs for carryout serve 4-50 people and can be ordered for large parties. The rib pack serves a rack of ribs, two pints of sides, four Texas toast slices and sauce for $29.95. The Just A Few pack serves a pound of pulled or sliced pork or Polish sausage along with two pints of sides, four buns and sauce for $16.95. Chicken or beef can be substituted for an additional $2.

Gallons of lemonade or tea are also available.

Additional catering services, offered through a sister company called Northwest Arkansas Cater Pros, have diverse selections from Mexican to fine dining.

The Wedington Drive location has a private room that can hold up to 35 people. The Mission Boulevard location has a banquet room that can accommodate up to 65 people. The location serves breakfast from 7 a.m.-noon Saturday and Sunday.

Breakfast include diner-style items such as eggs, home fries, pancakes, bacon, sausage or biscuits and gravy. There is also breakfast tacos, French toast, quiche, omelets and fresh-baked scones, muffins and cinnamon rolls.

The full menu for each location is available online at penguineds.com/menus-locations.

LOCATION: 6437 W. Wedington Drive, Fayetteville

PHONE: (479) 251-7429

LOCATION: 230 S. East Ave., Fayetteville

PHONE: (479) 521-3663

LOCATION: 2773 E. Mission Blvd., Fayetteville

PHONE: (479) 587-8646

website: penguineds.com

NICE TO KNOW: Breakfast served 7 a.m.-noon weekends at Mission Boulevard. Slow, hickory-smoked meats, sandwiches, salads, wings, homemade cookies and pies. Dine-in, carry-out, catering, banquet rooms.

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