As part of Weber’s contribution to the national brouhaha over Hawaii’s entrance into the Union, we decided to hold luaus at our key retail outlets, featuring grill-roasted whole pigs and Hawaiian hula dancers. My colleagues and I donned Hawaiian shirts and shorts and generally looked completely out of place roasting pigs on giant Weber Ranch® kettles in store parking lots.
For live talent, we tried to recruit real hula dancers but, not surprisingly, there weren’t many hanging around Chicago’s suburbs. So we ended up hiring local dance students willing to debut their careers at the local Montgomery Ward.
Believe it or not, the promotions were a big hit. Shoppers were drawn to the camera flashes as proud parents photographed their daughters. The melodic strains of the greatest ukulele hit of all time, Tiny Bubbles, and the aroma of roasting pork lured them even closer, where they’d see the crazy Weber folks dressed like Don Ho and handing out free eats.
What a way to make a living! But retailers loved those luaus. They drew customers and racked up sales of Weber grills and Hawaiian clothes. By the early 1970s, we were hosting hundreds of luaus around the country.
For me, the most memorable luau took place in St. Louis at a Famous Barr store in 1971; but I wasn’t even supposed to be there. It all started when a fellow Weberhead called me at home late one Friday night. In a sheepish, somewhat inebriated voice, he explained that he and his co-worker were pigless.
You see, it’s not easy to fly into a town and find a butcher shop that just happens to have a whole pig on hand. So Weber had hired Meeske’s Meat Shop in Mount Prospect, Illinois, to prepare and box whole pigs for us.
Our grill teams would pick them up on their way to the airport and check them with their luggage to their luau destination.
Turns out this time that each of the Weber pig roasters thought the other had picked up the pig. The airline was serving free booze all the way to St. Louis, so it wasn’t until they happily landed (and I do mean happily) that they discovered neither of them had the pig. Frantic, they had called all over St. Louis and, to their dismay, were unable to find a pig.
The big luau was scheduled to start the next day at 11:00 a.m. We quickly hatched the following plan. I would pick up their pig, head to O’Hare, buy a ticket, check the pig, but not actually get on the flight. They would then retrieve the pig from baggage claim in St. Louis and race to the luau.
Our mission was all the more critical because the president of the Famous Barr stores was to be there. He had said that if he liked what he saw, he would place our products in his entire chain of stores.
The only problem was that, among all the airlines, there was only one seat left—in first class. It departed Chicago at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, arriving in St. Louis at 9:50 a.m. It was cutting it close, but we could still have the pig on the grill before the first notes of Tiny Bubbles were played.
When Saturday dawned, I was already camped out at Meeske’s. Unfortunately, the night before had been Grandpa and Grandma Meeske’s 50th anniversary party and the family was running 15 minutes late. I wasn’t out of there with my boxed pig until 8:20 a.m., and now I had a 20-minute ride to O’Hare.
Several red lights and a slow-moving freight train later, I realized it was too close to departure time to check my luggage, so I had to go to plan B. Fortunately, I had a good-sized duffle bag in the trunk of my car.
Luckily, I found a parking spot close to the terminal. People looked at me strangely as I removed a plastic-wrapped, semi-frozen pig from a box and stuffed it into a duffle bag, but anything can happen at O’Hare, so they just walked past another crazy.
I raced to the ticket counter, lugging my pig. The agent told me I’d have to run to make the flight. Let me tell you, a pig gets mighty heavy when you’re sprinting with it through an airport. Still, I made it just as the door was closing and found that the seat next to mine was a no-show.
What a relief. I stuffed my duffled companion below the two seats in front of me. As I caught my breath and the plane gained altitude, I contemplated asking the flight attendant for one of those little wing pins for my pig, but I decided not to press my luck.
The good news is that the pig did beat the president to the luau. When the latter arrived, he was very pleased with the size of the crowd, and complimented us on the food. “Well,” I told him, as my hung-over colleagues choked back their laughter, “at Weber we like to do everything in a first-class manner.”