William Blanden grew up working in the barbecue business at his parents’ rib shack in Connecticut.
Little did he know that the experience he would gain would lead to him opening his own barbecue business — Blanden’s Bad BBQ.
Blanden promises finger-licking food in the business’ slogan — “Where bad really means good” — and customers can test that theory all weekend at the Fine Arts Fiesta on Public Square in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
Based in Bloomsburg, Blanden spends his days as a Bloomsburg University football coach and his nights bringing his food cart around campus to feed college students late at night. He also vends at several regional fairs throughout the summer season, such as the Northeast Fair and Bloomsburg Fair, and offers catering year-round.
Prior to becoming a football coach, Blanden graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and later earned a master’s degree in sports management from Nichols College. Although they do not directly tie-in to cooking, Blanden credits those degrees in helping him manage the behind-the-scenes operations.
“I really think the freedom of feeling like I’m tying everything together helps,” he said. “I coach football, and I love it; I’m going into 10 years coaching. ... But it’s really fun to see that something you’ve done on your own is successful. The first time I ever got nervous — and I’ve played two Division I sports — the first time I was ever nervous was setting up and selling food at the Northeast Fair for the first time.”
Everything Blanden creates is made from scratch. Patrons can choose from a variety of meats — including smoked ribs, brisket, pulled pork and pulled chicken — to put on a sandwich or pair with sides such as baked beans, coleslaw, and macaroni and cheese.
The specialty dish at Blanden’s Bad BBQ is dubbed Blanden’s Pork Parfait. This layered dish is 16 ounces of cornbread, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and pulled pork, topped with a cherry tomato. It costs $11, but Blanden said the parfait is more than enough food for one person.
Although Blanden had the background of his parents’ award-winning recipes and training, creating the barbecue business became more nerve-wracking for him because his name was on the sign.
“The best part is the joy of saying that people like the food,” Blanden said. “It’s something that I set my mind to and did it at a slow pace. I get people all of the time saying, ‘Get a brick-and-mortar business — you’d be so busy.’ I’m not into that idea right now. ... I love coaching football, but I also love cooking. Cooking itself is really relaxing to me.”
This year marks Blanden’s third season at the Fine Arts Fiesta, and the chef guaranteed that his food will stand out among the other 11 food vendors.
“It’s all homemade,” Blanden said. “It’s gonna be different than normal barbecue. It’s just really good food, and I say this all the time, but it’s not fair food. It’s real food. If you’re looking for fair food, I can’t help you. I don’t have the fresh-cut fries or chicken tenders. But if you want real food, here you go.”
FINE ARTS FIESTA FOOD VENDORS
Horr’s Hot Dogs, Avoca: Specialty hot dogs
Chan’s Concessions, Pembroke Pines, Fla.: Chicken on a stick, shrimp and fried rice
Nico’s Pizza, Wayne: Wraps, stromboli and pizza
Dave Norman Concessions, Waverly, Ga.: Gyros, Greek salad, crab cakes, lobster roll, pulled pork and clam strips
Liberty Concessions, Alden: Sausage and peppers, cheesesteaks, hamburgers, funnel cakes and smoothies
Sammy’s Caribbean Grill, Pittston: Traditional Caribbean foods
Tony Thomas Fries, Wapwallopen: French fries, fried piergoi and chicken tenders
Blanden’s Bad BBQ, Bloomsburg: Beef brisket, ribs, chicken and pulled pork
Country Girl Kettle Corn, Plains Twp.: Popcorn
Coco Bongos, Perry, N.Y.: Frozen drinks
Manny’s Ice Cream, Abington: Hand-dipped ice cream
Irem Temple, Kingston: Potato pancakes and sno cones