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JRs SouthPork Ranch: An Iowa Family Tradition

Live well, eat well, and have fun at the Iowa State Fair.” ~ Unknown


JRs SouthPork Ranch

Introduction

Have you ever wondered how the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival got started? When I asked Brooks Reynolds, CEO of The Space Wranglers, to sit down with me for a quick catch-up after the Iowa State Fair, we suddenly realized it had been 15 years since last we spoke to one another in Denver. At that moment, we chuckled that our connection dated back to the genesis of The Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival. Over 15 Years of Bacon and Beers, we’ve stayed in touch with a wave or thumbs-up emoji through our “Socials.” Always taking the time to drop a DM through LinkedIn to say, "Yo, where yah at?"


When I heard Brooks had launched JRs SouthPork Ranch, I knew they were doing something special. He and his team think beyond the box, leveling up and honoring family in his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. JR stands for Jody and Rennie, his parents, and the restaurant is a tribute to their involvement with the country’s largest agricultural fair dating back to the 1950s. And so the story of bringing JRs SouthPork Ranch began in October 2020, at the height of COVID-19. While restaurants and event centers were closing across the country, Brooks and his team were presented with an opportunity to launch a food-based business at The Iowa State Fairgrounds. He knew the importance of being responsible for stewarding this high-profile fair location.



JRs SouthPork Ranch

Building a New Brand

When it came to making an aesthetically cohesive space, Brooks collaborated with Carey Hansen, founder and driving force of Greek House Chefs (GHC). She is a visionary in the culinary arts and a collaborator. GHC serves over 13.9M meals annually to sororities and fraternities nationwide. Their relationship reaches far beyond a restaurant partnership. They’ve worked together on fundraisers like the annual Holiday Bounce House Bonanza at Moulton Elementary School in Des Moines. It all began when Brooks asked Carey and her husband Corey to prepare a turkey dinner for the students and staff at Moulton Elementary - to thank the community for their ongoing support. GHC helped unite students, teachers, and staff to enjoy a family meal before a long-needed holiday break.


JRs SouthPork Ranch

When Brooks came to Carey with the idea for JRs, she introduced him to Reddot Design. Carey brought insight to help create a look that aligned well with the new site's location, vision, and architecture. As you walk in, downstairs is lined with oak barrels and high-boy chairs. The table tops carry the JRs brand, beautifully hand-painted with a high-gloss finish. The upstairs is open-air with leaning posts and more whiskey barrels embodying a country-western approach. Under the Coca-Cola sign downstairs is a location to purchase Merch and cool momentos, especially that bacon fanny pack we all love.


JRs SouthPork Ranch - Patio

As you look toward the outdoor space, picnic benches, and cocktail tables are available to enjoy local premium craft beverages. The design team added sunshades, paying attention to every detail relating to customer comfort.


JRs runs 23 events annually (open May - November) and undoubtedly has the best space for corporate meetings, annual fundraisers, and weekend-long events. They also host two live bands per day during the fair, making it an exciting opportunity to listen to some great music!



JRs SouthPork Ranch

JRs Menu Offerings

JRs took time to select a vendor and hire a head chef for menu creation and provisions that fair-goers desired. The Greek House Chefs (GHC) worked with JRs Head Chef, Heith Sheeley, to build an inspiring menu. The team knew that Heith and GHC could handle the business flow and create a solid platform from which to work. The Bacon Pickle Mac N’ Cheese - The Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich, and JR's famous Maine lobster roll are just a few delicious bites. For those with a larger appetite, go for the “Footlong Plain.” Lobster meat, shallots, and capers, all stuffed into a brioche, footlong buttered and toasted bun—a real culinary tourism adventure.


JRs SouthPork Ranch

Brooks called on Mark Murrell, Chief Curator of Get Maine Lobster, based on the docks in Portland, Maine. They are the largest direct-to-consumer lobster company shipping throughout the United States. This year, JRs pre-ordered two pallets of lobster for the Iowa State Fair. Their final order totaled an additional 400 lbs to cover them for the last weekend of festivities. The demand was met by Mark and his team with time to spare. The Get Maine Lobster guys pride themselves on building high-value partnerships.


Get Maine Lobster - Mark Murrell

Mark focuses on sustainability and long-term relationships with their lobster harvesters, too. They ship packaged lobster and other sustainably sourced shellfish direct each day. In Maine, the lobster industry takes stewardship seriously. They follow local harvesting laws dating back to 1889. Lobstermen/women have been fishing for crustaceans with eco-friendly traps since 1961.


JRs SouthPork Ranch

Premium Craft Brews

JRs offers many local craft brews and works with several brewers in Des Moines. Pete Faber, a local Iowan, founded Barn Town Brewing. After college, Pete spent most of his time working in the restaurant business in Chicago; as his business knowledge and family grew, he longed for Des Moines, and after 16 years, he and his family moved back home to launch Barn Town.


Pete’s first Iowa State Fair Brew began with The Pickle Tickle, on tap at The Bird’s Nest. Meanwhile, he was working on creating a brewing menu of over 100 different “one-off” brews - his sights were on building Barn Town Brewery into a full-service, family-friendly restaurant. Next time you visit Pete, check out the Igloos they installed!



Barn Town Brewing!


Pete and Brooks' friendship dates back to their school days in Des Moines. Once Brooks was sure he was moving forward with JRs, he called on Pete to collaborate on a few beers for the fair. JRs now offers 24 taps of Barn Town Brewing’s gluten-free beers: Cotton Candy is a light pink hue with fresh spun sweet treat flavors. Strawberry Lemonade is packed with a pucker of strawberries and lemons. The Watermelon Sour is a hot pink adult beverage that tastes like you are enjoying watermelon candy on a hot day.


Don’t fret, domestic brew lovers; JRs carries Bud, Bud Light, and Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR). They also have a wide variety of hard seltzers and adult slushies. Nothing better than a Frosé on a hot summer day.



barn town brewing!


The Iowa State Fair

The first Iowa State Fair was launched in October 1854, when mid-west agriculture was booming. Land Grant colleges were technical resources for farmers and commodities traders throughout. The budget for this fair totaled just over $300 to launch. As 2023’s Iowa State Fair concludes, De Moines hosted 1,133,958 attendees over 11 ½ days from August 10th - 20th. Next year, the Iowa State Fair runs from August 8th to the 18th, put that on your calendars!


Iowa State Fair!

What’s Next For Brooks & The Team?

Brooks' consistently explores new projects; on his next venture, he heads to Asia for discussions in Japan and Vietnam to broaden his reach. Of course, he and the team are already planning for next year’s fair. Brooks’ philosophy is to surround himself with fun, like-minded people who aren't afraid to fail and reboot every now and then. If you are looking for Brooks, you might find him rejuvenating somewhere in Iceland, one of his favorite places to visit and decompress after a busy season of bacon, blues, and brews!
















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