At first, Becker Hall and Rene Louapre just wanted to revive the Southern tradition of bringing together friends and family and having full-on pig roast. But soon, their mission evolved into something much larger.
Hall said they met Ben Sarrat Jr., a young boy diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, in 2008. That’s when they decided to host a pig-pickin’ with a mission, or as they call it, Hogs for the Cause.
Their first event was held in New Orleans eight years ago as a pretty small-scale fundraiser, with one pig, one keg, and about 150 of their friends and family members. It ended up raising $10,000 for Sarrat and his family, which helped them pay medical bills and support themselves during the difficult time.
Seeing what an impact they had, Hall and Louapre brought it back again the next year on a larger scale to raise money for multiple families dealing with pediatric brain cancer. Since then, the New Orleans event has grown drastically in offerings and community support. The event now features performances by multiple national acts, a competition of amateur and professional pit-masters from across Louisiana, and tens of thousands of attendees.
“This year alone, we’ve helped over 150 families and given out over $400,000. That’s incredible just right there and we just know there’s so much more that we can do,” Hall said. “The demand around the country for what we do is huge ... which is why we’re expanding to other cities.”
Charleston is the first city Hogs for the Cause has expanded to so far. The inaugural event was held last year at Patriots Point’s new outdoor event space, the Grove.
Hall explained that Charleston seemed like a good fit because of its reputation as a strong food and tourism market. Plus, the organizers had started to develop relationships in Charleston’s culinary scene. Chef Sean Brock participated in the fourth Hogs for the Cause Gala, and Home Team BBQ made the voyage to the Big Easy for the competition the following year.
“That’s when we started kicking around the idea for Charleston ... and there was about a year’s worth of putting together the concept,” Hall said.
Last year, the local event featured meat dishes from most major barbecue joints around South Carolina, including Scott’s Bar-B-Que of Hemingway, Food for the Southern Soul, Conyers Family BBQ of Manning, Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ and several others.
It was held mostly as a showcase of barbecue restaurants rather than the popular competition model from New Orleans, which pits professionals and amateur, homegrown barbecue chefs against each other in a multiple category cook-off. So this year, Hall said they’re bringing that model here, too.
Fifteen professional and amateur teams will participate in Hogs for the Cause’s competition at the Grove. Attendees will get to vote for their fan favorite and a panel of judges will decide who wins the title as the best barbecue chef overall.
Professional teams include Home Team BBQ, Swig ‘n’ Swine, Fox Brothers of Atlanta and Sweatman’s Barbecue.
The fundraising goal for each team is $2,000. Proceeds from the event benefit local families struggling with pediatric brain cancer, and often, the organization works with MUSC Children’s Hospital on its mission.
“Our No. 1 focus is helping families, so essentially, what we do is filling the void between what insurance covers and what a family can afford and usually that void is massive,” Hall said. “But to help more people, you have to have successful events to support us on the cost side.”
While Hogs for the Cause has became a favorite annual celebration in New Orleans, the Charleston event hasn’t had its breakthrough moment just yet. Hall said ticket sales weren’t as strong as they were hoping for last year.
“It wasn’t a commercial success, but the feedback we got from people was amazing, so it was like ‘OK, let’s give it another try,’ ” he said, adding that he thinks the buzz around this year’s event will be even stronger.
“This is the model we intend to grow if we are successful this year,” he said.
The gates for the event will open at 11 a.m., and live musical performances will run from 12:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.