Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Barbecue for 10,000? Old hat for inauguration caterer

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com

In Texas, it isn't really an inauguration unless there's barbecue.

For the past four gubernatorial inauguration ceremonies in Texas, one man has been in charge of feeding the thousands who show up on the Capitol steps to watch the governor take the oath of office.

And on Tuesday, just after Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dew­hurst are sworn in for their third terms, Eddie Deen will do it again. The Terrell restaurateur and caterer has become the unofficial inauguration caterer for Perry and former President George W. Bush , having catered more than half a dozen inaugural celebrations for them since the mid-1990s.

The only thing he's concerned about ahead of Tuesday's massive lunch for more than 10,000? The weather.

Four years ago, ice, snow and cold temperatures forced Perry's swearing-in ceremony inside, but Deen pulled off the barbecue lunch anyway, serving much of the food to members of the homeless community when the majority of the expected crowd stayed home. "Nobody could get to the shelters to open them up, so they came to us," he says.

Deen says that as long as the weather cooperates (highs are expected to be in the 40s), everything should run smoothly. "We're serving 600 briskets, 360 gallons of potato salad, 250 gallons of cole slaw, 300 gallons of red pinto beans and 120 gallons of Eddie Deen's signature barbecue sauce." The yeast rolls and buttermilk pie are made from scratch in Terrell, and the jalapeño sausage will come from the San Antonio-based Kiolbassa company.

Last week, San Antonio businessman Red McCombs picked up the tab for the meal, which was originally slated to cost $8 per person, but though the tickets for the meal are free, you must go online before 5 p.m. Friday at www.2011texasinaugural.com to get one. (While you're online "buying" your ticket through PayPal, you can also donate to the Wounded Warrior Project, a program that helps service members who have been injured transition to civilian life and into new careers.)

Unlike years past, there won't be an inaugural parade to follow the barbecue, but there will be live music, including the mariachi band from Crockett High School, as well as magicians and face-painting for kids.

As part of an inner-city youth development program in Dallas, more than 50 juniors and seniors from David W. Carter High School will help Deen's staff members with the meal. Deen says he's not just teaching them about the food service industry or becoming entrepreneurs. By mentoring the students and giving them responsibilities outside schools, "we're teaching them to become a driver instead of a passenger," he says. Several graduates from the program are now Deen's full-time employees. "We're teaching these up-and-coming students how to earn their keep."

But not even the inaugurations can match Deen's biggest catering event to date: a meal for 25,000 service members at Fort Hood. Deen, who also runs two restaurants with a third near the Dallas Cowboys stadium on the way, says part of running a successful large-scale event is making sure that people don't have to stand in line long for food. "It's all about the customer's experience," he says. "The idea is how to create that experience with a large amount of people."

abroyles@statesman.com; 912-2504