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Three local men create a carnivores’ delight

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There is no Midas touch, according to Tom Bradley. There’s only vision, opportunity and a whole lot of effort. As he prepares for the first Meatpalooza, Bradley makes it clear that organizing the Missouri Beer Fest, which this year drew more than 2,000 attendees to Columbia, for four years has taught him many valuable lessons, but there’s no free ticket to success.

“Some people think, ‘Wow, you touch something, and it’s gold,’” he says. “But it’s work. Starting from the beginning with a new event is a lot of work. You’re fortunate enough to have people who believe in you already because of a past event that’s proven itself, but it’s still a lot to do.”

Meatpalooza will take place Sept. 6 at Parkade Plaza and bring vendors and meat lovers together from all over Missouri for a celebration of all things carnivorous. Bradley and his partners, Jonathan Shelby and Brett Decker, have spent the year cultivating vendors and drumming up publicity for the event, one that promises to be the first of its kind in mid-Missouri.

Attendees will be able to sample different kinds and cuts of meat, watch seasoned chefs prepare different dishes and compete in a barbecue competition.

Bradley’s longtime love of homebrewed beer drew him to Beer Fest, but he says his love of meat might be greater still.

“I’ve been interested in grilling and smoking meat since I was a kid,” he says. “Honestly, I feel like my whole life has been leading up to this.”


Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 12.33.34 PMMeat the team

Bradley may be Meatpalooza’s best-known organizer, but Kirksville natives — and longtime best friends — Jonathan Shelby and Brett Decker were the ones who brought it to the table.

Shelby and Decker graduated from Kirksville High School together in 2002. They later established a yearly tradition of holding large cookouts with friends and family.

“When we have these cookouts, we go to all kinds of different local shops,” Shelby says. “We’ll get brats from a certain local sausage place; we’ll go to another place that specializes in salami. We try to get the run of the spectrum.”

He and Decker brought the Meatpalooza idea to Bradley together.

“They said, ‘We want an event where we can eat meat until we break into a meat sweat,’” Bradley says. “And at first I laughed, but then I went: ‘Wait a minute. That’s a great idea. There’s not really anything like that out here.’”

Missouri hosts a handful of other meat-related festivals, but Decker, Bradley and Shelby all say their goal for Meatpalooza is to create an event unlike all of them: one that combines the boisterous atmosphere of a backyard barbecue with the expertise and variety offered by a high-brow food festival.

“We really want to have everything there — anything you can get in Missouri,” Bradley says. “Whether it’s rattlesnake or bison or deer, we want to show off a lot of different things that most people may not have had the opportunity to try before.”


‘Such a good time, even a vegetarian could come and enjoy themselves’

Although Bradley and Shelby both credit Decker with expert culinary skills, he insists that he is no expert — and that’s part of the reason he’s looking forward to Meatpalooza himself. Decker hopes that the variety of vendors will allow attendees to sample new things and get a closer look at the food-preparation process.

“We want this to be open to a wide audience, whether it’s foodies who like to poke around mom-and-pop stores in St. Louis or people like me who love barbecue but aren’t quite masters,” he says. “I think sometimes we limit ourselves in trying new things because we don’t want to spend $15 on an exotic cut and end up with something that tastes like a hockey puck. This will hopefully give everyone a chance to see some new things, find out if they like them and maybe take something home to try a new recipe.”

Shelby says that his primary goals for this year are to help connect attendees with vendors and to make sure the welcoming party atmosphere of his and Decker’s backyard barbecues is not lost in organizing a much larger event.

“Our goal is to put together an event that’s such a good time, even a vegetarian could come and enjoy themselves,” Bra

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Steve Moeller of Lone Cottonwood Farms at his spot at the Columbia Farmers marker. Photo courtesy of Columbia Farmers Market