The Asphalt Cowboys' Redding Rodeo Week Pancake Breakfast
Breakfast With the BoysMay 2012
By Betty Lease
The next time you’re fixing breakfast, take a moment to imagine what it would be like to mix up 26,000 pounds of pancake batter in order to feed more than 10,000 people.
Asphalt Cowboy member Tom Spade can tell you exactly what it’s like. For years, he’s been the head batter mixer for the annual Redding Rodeo Week pancake breakfast that takes place in Roaring Gulch (Market Street, Cascade Theatre block) every year. This year it will be from 5 to 10 am May 18.
The 500-gallon blending tank roars to life at 12:30 am the morning of the breakfast, churning out enough batter every 10 to 11 minutes to feed 600 people. The specially formulated batter is stored in five-gallon containers until it’s poured onto sizzling hot grills and morphed into fluffy, delicious pancakes.
It’s a finely tuned process, one that has been honed since the Asphalt Cowboys made their first pancakes in 1954, two years after the organization was chartered by Shasta County Sheriff John Balma to help sponsor and promote the Redding Rodeo.
The 38 members take their mission seriously while having loads of fun. The Rodeo Week breakfast is one of 20 fundraising events they hold every year – in order to raise the $100,000 it takes to sponsor their Rodeo Week activities – but it’s easily the most popular.
Breakfast Chairman Van Kinney says he and his fellow Cowboys look forward to it all year long. “To me, it’s the social event of the year. You bump into everybody in town,” he says.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s so worth it,” adds Spade.
More than 10,000 North State folks agree. For them, it’s a time-honored tradition to chow down on pancakes and sausage, chat with folks they haven’t seen for a while and revel in community spirit.
The Cowboys start setting up the day before the breakfast and pull an all-nighter getting things ready for the 5 am start. They get help from a variety of other organizations and individuals. After the breakfast concludes at 10 am, clean-up crews go to work and all is done by 11:30 am.
“It takes a day and a half to set up and one and a half hours to tear it down,” Spade says. “Nobody quits until the last job is done.”
There’s no room for mistakes in such a massive operation, so each yellow-shirted Cowboy performs a task he’s perfected. Lines that can stretch for several blocks move quickly, and Kinney says the wait is usually no more than 10 minutes. And they can seat 2,200 people at a time.
“We say it’s the largest outdoor breakfast in the world, and no one has ever disputed it,” Spade says. “We feed 10,000 people in five hours and we’re really proud of it.”
The Cowboys don’t mess with success. Their pancake recipe was developed some 30 years ago, and yes, the rumor is true: It does contain a tiny bit of beer. “There’s one beer for every 100 people,” Spade says. “The yeast makes them fluffy and rise better.”
Because attendance numbers have been creeping up every year, Spade says they are prepared to feed 12,000. No one will miss out on breakfast.
The Asphalt Cowboys, an official affiliate of the Redding Rodeo Association, fund a variety of Rodeo Week activities. Without the Cowboys, there would be no Rodeo Parade, Kiddie Pet
Parade, Quick Draw Contest, Special Kids Day or the annual Lone Stranger & Sidekick “bank robbery.”
Some may not realize that the Cowboys are sworn reserve deputies for the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, with badges and weapon permits. They are recertified in weapons training every year and can be called up to serve at any time.
Spade, who’s been a Cowboy for 35 years and is the group’s media director, says that because the organization owns its equipment, it can be ready to serve breakfast to 4,000 in a couple of hours in an emergency.
It’s a tight-knit group, known for its community service, camaraderie and fun-loving attitude. Membership is by invitation, and each Cowboy is expected to work at every event. No slackers are allowed.
The bright yellow shirts are traditional, selected in 1952 for instant recognition. The plan definitely worked; they’re greeted by smiles and honking horns wherever they go. So if you’re lucky enough to know or see a Cowboy, buy a breakfast ticket from him.
The Asphalt Cowboys Rodeo Week Pancake Breakfast
5 to 10 am May 18 at Roaring Gulch
(Market Street, Cascade Theatre block).
Advance tickets, $3 (Gironda’s, Lulu’s, Paint Mart, Redding Chamber of Commerce);
at the gate, $4. Includes pancakes, sausage,
milk, orange juice and coffee.