Behind the Scenes: Bracket Challenge Burger Edition

Behind the Scenes: Bracket Challenge Burger Edition

Posted on 04/25/2022 by Andy Waterman

Burgers are an American staple, right? They must be, the numbers don’t lie. According to the USDA, folks in the U.S. consume an average of 2.4 burgers a day – which is about 50 BILLION burgers a year. When it came time to continue our Bracket Challenge on Facebook this year, we wanted to continue to build on the success and popularity of the competition. The first year the Bracket Challenge focused on attractions, in 2021 it centered around events, so this year we wanted to feature food, particularly burgers. Everybody eats, so we figured it would be popular. To say that popular is an understatement would be putting it lightly. As you keep reading, we'll give you a behind the scenes look at how the Bracket Challenge Burger Edition came to be, and some different storylines that developed because of it! 

We had 26 different eateries that were featured in the bracket, and each one of them has a loyal following. Over the three weeks of the competition, we saw just how loyal some of you are to your favorite burger joints. All of our posts about the Bracket Challenge reached well over 300 thousand people! Our Facebook page gained over 2,700 new followers in under a month, which is crazy.

Enough about us, how did the Bracket Challenge Burger Edition effect our local eateries? We compiled a few interviews from some of the owners themselves – as well as some burger connoisseurs that fully supported the competition and continue to do so even though it’s over.

The first question to address is how did each burger joint make the bracket? About 2-3 weeks before the competition went live, we put a post on Facebook asking for nominations. Several eateries were nominated that way. We also had a running list of recommendations from our travels throughout our 21-county region, so a few other joints made the bracket that way. The Bracket Challenge went live the week that the college basketball tournament started, and it started to receive positive attention from folks almost immediately. Brian Turner of Fairfield took to our Facebook page often to confess his love for burgers. “I love sports and participate in culture spinoffs of the March Madness bracket as often as I can, so a burger bracket was right up my alley,” explains Turner. “My job as a sportswriter has taken me all over the state the last couple of decades, and I love a good burger, so I had already tried many of these burgers listed, and I'm never shy to share my opinion. One of the first things I look for when traveling to a town is a place to get a burger and a beer. 

The local businesses who made the bracket were just as excited as Brian, but for different reasons. While they all obviously love burgers, the publicity was important to them. “It is very special that you all focused on small businesses that are very much alike and helped southern Illinois see what else is out there,” says Dillon Farmer, who owns the Two Farmers Burgers and Beignets food truck with his wife. “It was an honor to even be mentioned with a lot of these establishments. There are many odds stacked against small businesses today and it's through things like this Bracket Challenge that help us thrive,” Farmer adds.

Thrive. That is the key word. Our main goal behind this bracket was to promote some of the amazing food that ILLINOISouth has to offer. “Seeing the reach of this bracket actually kind of made me jealous,” Turner admits. “It is hard for most mediums to have that sort of reach. And I get that was the ultimate point of the bracket--advertising, more so than crowning an actual champion. I'm all for spreading the word and encouraging people to get out and support local businesses, even of their neighboring towns. The more we can get people eating at locally owned businesses, the better off southern Illinois is,” adds Turner.

Supporting local was definitely on display, in a couple of different ways, actually. The first was by way of voting support and sharing the Bracket Challenge Burger Edition on Facebook. Several matchups accumulated thousands of votes, including one matchup in particular that stirred up a bit of ‘drama.’ In the semifinals Chuck’s Place out of Salem squared off against Julians Drive-In from Flora. Sam Erwin is a co-host of the radio show ‘Behind the Mic,’ and the Flora native took to social media to rally the troops to vote for Julians. “I did a professional wrestling type promo hyping it up and people in Salem and the surrounding area thought I was serious,” Erwin says. “It made people turn out in droves to vote even more for Chuck’s because they took it personally,” he adds. “It was all in fun, we were in contact with him through the whole day on Facebook, he’s a super nice guy,” says Becky Powell of Chuck’s Place. “When you first saw the video all you heard was hate, hate, hate, so automatically you were mad, and a lot of people were,” Chuck Powell says with a smile. “But if you sit down and watch the whole video it was funny,” Powell adds. Chuck’s Place won the matchup and advanced to the championship round, but Erwin didn’t stop with the videos. “I continued to do it for the rest of the tournament to help Chuck’s after that,” he explains. “I even bought 100 burgers a piece to help support both Chuck’s and Julian’s as a “thank you” to both businesses for being good sports, and to the customers as well for supporting their local businesses. It was all in good fun and it worked well as it helped boost votes, drive sales, and get us more views and followers on our show. Everyone won!!! It turns out both locations had record setting sales days thanks to this tournament and my videos,” Erwin adds.

As Erwin mentioned, the other way supporting local was on display aside from voting was that people turned out to eat at many of these restaurants almost immediately. “It helped bring in business,” explains Lisa Tuttle, co-owner of the Moonshine Store in Clark County. “People were coming in talking about the different places in the competition, and they wanted to try us out if they hadn’t tried us yet,” said Jackie Tuttle, the other co-owner of Moonshine. The Powell’s say that Chuck’s Place has seen quite the uptick in business as well. “Insane,” Becky said instantly. “Tons and tons of people from all over,” Chuck said. Moonshine won the Bracket Challenge against Chuck’s Place in a round that accumulated over 18 THOUSAND VOTES! I caught up with the folks from Chuck’s place more than a week after the competition ended, and they say the folks keep coming. “We have been out of town for a few days trying to get some rest and relaxation after all of this before the summer hits, and our employees told us on a Monday that they had an even bigger record day without us,” Becky said. “On a Monday,” I asked shocked. “Yep, on a Monday,” Chuck said with a chuckle.

We have heard from many folks now that the bracket has turned into a checklist of sorts. “We like to go in the summer and take the weekend and take the Jeep to different places so, I will use the bracket that I screenshot and that’s what we’ll do too,” Jackie Tuttle says. “It was very interesting to see a lineup of all the local burger joints,” Farmer says. “I have been to several but was introduced to many new ones. It is now my mission to visit and try them all.” “There are definitely some that we haven’t tried on there that we want to get to, so we’ll make it our burger bucket list,” admits Chuck Powell.

This Bracket Challenge Burger Edition went so well, that we’re actually looking to follow it up with another Bracket Challenge based around food this fall. That particular food is EXTREMELY popular and has its own National Month in October (hint, hint). Keep an eye out for that, and thank you for following along with our Bracket Challenge this spring!

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