MONIQUE BATSON — Inaugural SETX Craft BBQ Festival highlights growing downtown fun

Published 12:38 am Saturday, February 11, 2023

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When it came to discussions about the inaugural SETX Craft BBQ Festival happening today in Port Neches, dreaming seemed to be a theme.

It was the word Heather Burton, owner of My Tribe Nutrition, used to describe Juss Rabalais and the event’s fruition.

“It was his vision and his dream to bring craft barbecue, different businesses and fellow dreamers together to create a festival,” she said. “We want to bring new businesses to the Avenue and showcase our local vendors and local talent.”

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Rabalais, owner of Old West Smoke Company, took that dream from a one-time thought to a way of life.

“Some people say I’m a dreamer and I expect a lot, but I am a dreamer and I do expect a lot,” he said. “We have everything Southeast Texans are looking for to have a genuine festival. There are so many artists in this area that we are sleeping on.”

But while he may be a self-proclaimed dreamer, it is now evident Rabalais is very much a doer.

When he and Burton first approached the Port Neches City Council in October with the thought to bring barbecue, beer, live music and family fun to Port Neches Avenue, they were proud to announce the expectation of 600 attendees.

As of late this week, a Facebook invitation for the event had reached 48,000 people locally — 2,000 of which showed interest in attending.

“We’re expecting about 1,000 people or more,” Rabalais said this week.

As a lifelong resident of Mid County who grew up in and returned to Port Neches, the idea of 1,000 people roaming Port Neches Avenue is more than thrilling.

I can recall when I was younger and a road full of promise was either predominately empty or appealing only to the older generation.

It was the same for Boston Avenue.

Now the downtown scenes in Mid County are reinventing themselves, attracting people of all ages.

Port Neches Avenue and Boston Avenue have transformed to streets one can spend a full day on. There’s coffee in the morning, cafés for lunch, shopping, salons, breweries and entertainment in the evening.

And city leaders in Port Arthur have also funneled efforts into rebuilding downtown. Historical properties are under renovation, beautification is ongoing and new business continues to develop.

It is exemplified in Clifford Distilling, which opened last spring in Port Arthur. Sean Clifford had his choices of locations, but the Port Arthur resident wanted to bring attraction to his hometown.

However, it’s not just the business owners but also the residents who bring a unique culture to Southeast Texas.

“I’m sick and tired of seeing people — not just residents but vendors and restaurants — leave this area to go to barbecue festivals when we have the talent right here,” Rabalais said. “We have an untapped 6th Street in Austin right here in Downtown Port Neches.”

Today’s festival will bring food trucks from all over Southeast Texas together with individual craft and merchandise vendors that will offer an array of eclectic items. And the event is family friendly.

But, as Rabalais said, it “kills two birds with one stone.”

The local entrepreneur enjoys giving back to the community. The proceeds from the event will go towards the newly formed Port Neches Police Officers Nonprofit Association. T-shirt sales benefit a Port Neches police officer recently diagnosed with leukemia. (He asked to go unnamed.)

Local businesses depend on and deserve to have the people in their communities support them, and festivals such as these bring attraction and growth to our cities — while still benefiting those who need it.

So if you have the time, swing by Port Neches Avenue between 2 and 8 p.m. today.

As Burton said, “It’s a way to highlight the area and have an event where we can have outdoor music and the smell of barbecue.”

I’ll see you there.

Monique Batson is Port Arthur Newsmedia editor. She can be reached at