Last month, Ed Knight and his crews at Penguin Ed's Bar-B-Que restaurants celebrated 25 years of serving up top quality smoked meats to Northwest Arkansas bar-b-que fans. It's been a long time coming. From smoking meat under a tent at a busy intersection, to a trailer, to a brick and mortar location; and then back to a trailer again before finding a permanent location, Ed said it's all been worth it. And he knows why Penguin Ed's has stood the test of time.
"No. 1 is the quality of the service," he said. "No. 2 is the quality of the meat, and No. 3 is the affordability. We priced ourselves at the lower end of what you would pay at other area barbeque establishments."
Those three points, Ed believes, have made his three Fayetteville Penguin Ed's locations successful.
"I think that philosophy is what carried us through the rougher years," he said. "No amount of good food is going to overcome bad service. We really care about what people think."
To ensure proper quality and service, Ed and his wife regularly eat at their establishments, read and respond to comment cards and send in secret shoppers to get unbiased opinions.
"In my earlier days I would almost badger people until they would tell me the truth," Ed said, laughing. "I am never afraid to ask a hard question."
Ed shared a story to demonstrate his philosophy.
One day, early in Ed's bar-b-que career, he was sitting in his office--a booth in the dining room of his first brick--and-mortar restaurant--after working a kitchen shift.
"One day I saw a couple get their food," he recounted. "I took a quick look and it just wasn't a really good looking plate. They say... 'you eat with your eyes.' I went over and said, 'let me replace that. That doesn't look right.'
The couple declined Ed's offer and assured him everything was fine.
"Again, I asked, but didn't push it," he added. "I regretted not replacing their order. A little later that day, I was out in town shopping and again ran into the same couple. I questioned them again. For whatever reason they felt free to tell me the truth then."
Ed was right. The couple explained that the meat they were served was too dry.
"Not everyone is keen to tell you what they think," he said. "Even though they can save others from what might be a bad dining experience."
Ed said that he has mellowed some over the years, but he still is very hands-on when it comes to the quality of their service and the items they serve.
While Penguin Ed's has dozens and dozens of items on their diverse menus, Ed does have his favorites.
"Our Cookies," he said with a laugh. "That's a tough question. I like the ribs and the chicken. But, the cookie... we have a totally loyal following on those cookies."
Between the three Penguin Ed's locations, he estimates -- with a little help - they serve between 5000 and 6000 customers each week. That's a lot of bar-b-que. However, Ed points out that while the pulled pork sandwich may be their top seller by volume, an unexpected bar-b-que restaurant item is a solid second.
"The smoked chicken salad is the No. 2," he noted.
Ed said his twist on bar-b-que is a combination of what he brought from his Kansas City days and what he has picked up from the Texas style of smoking meats.
Penguin Ed's landmark historic B & B location on South East Avenue has a smoke-free outdoor patio, perfect for summer evenings. And their Mission location features a full weekend breakfast menu.
"My wife and I will typically eat breakfast there on a weekend," he said. "We end up seeing a lot of the same people. It's a really good local breakfast spot. I'm not sure that everybody knows about it. You kind of have to find it. It's a word-of-mouth thing. It's a loyal group that comes for breakfast."
Along the way in the past quarter century, Penguin Ed's has been featured in countless press accounts from local media to the pages of the New York Times. Ed doesn't let the attention go to his head.
"I'm not one to read the press clippings," he said. "We have such loyal people come and they bring their families and friends. If you just do what you are supposed to do, it all will come."
Good to know
Penguin Ed's Mission
2773 East Mission
Mon-Sat: 10:30 am -- 9 pm
Sunday -- 10:30am -- 8:30pm
Breakfast Sat. & Sun.: 7:00 am -- 11:00 am
Penguin Ed's B&B
230 South East Avenue
Mon-Thurs: 10:30 am -- 8:30 pm
Fri-Sat: 10:30 am -- 9:00 pm
Sun: 10:30 am -- 3:00 pm
Penguin Ed's West
6347 West Wedington Drive
Mon-Thurs: 10:30 am -- 8:30 pm
Fri & Sat: 10:30 am -- 9:00 pm Sunday 10:30am-8pm
Ask about Penguin Ed's gluten free and vegetarian menu options... and don't forget about the cookies.NAN Dining Guide Spotlight on 08/19/2018
Print Headline: 25 years and still smokin'