Timber!!! The restaurant industry has never seen anything quite like the new Great Smoky Mountain Lumberjack Feud, which opened for business in late August. Located in tourist haven Pigeon Forge, TN — the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park — it's a dinner show concept where 1,000 guests feast on all-American fare while world-champion lumberjacks demonstrate their mastery of 10 timber sport events.
This is a large-scale operation. Owner/operator Lumberjack Sports International invested $10 million in the concept, building a 34,000 sq. ft. venue to house it. The company runs lumberjack shows (without dinner) elsewhere, and is able draw from its stable of world-class timber athletes to staff this venture. Great Smoky Mountain Lumberjack Feud must be the only foodservice operation that has a chain saw manufacturer, Stihl, as a marquee partner.
The nominal premise is this: “Set in the 1930s, the show depicts two feuding Smoky Mountain logging families, competing for rights to log the last remaining timber tract before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park permanently shuts down the timber industry throughout the Park's preserve.” Six lumberjacks, three per family, compete in such events as tree-climbing, axe-throwing, chopping, sawing and log-rolling.
A couple of sideline activities spice up the show. One involves dock diving, in which Labrador retrievers battle to see which dog can jump the farthest, flying into the facility's water-filled log pond from shore. Perhaps the most spectacular part of the show, and we hope it's for the right reasons, is described to guests this way on the company's website: “You could even be chosen to climb one of the 55-foot climbing trees against another fan from the crowd.” Hope they bought plenty of insurance.
The dinner/show package is reasonably priced. It costs $39.95 to sit in the first few rows and dine on a protein lover's feast that includes both a rack of slathered BBQ ribs and a Southern-fried chicken breast; a four-item side dish assortment that includes baked mac'n cheese, homestyle baked beans, coleslaw and a garlic-cheese biscuit; a giant chocolate chip cookie for dessert; and a choice of beverage.
Guests who want to spend a little less can choose the picnic box option for $35.95. This meal includes three chicken tenders, potato wedges, a giant chocolate chip cookie and beverage. Hard to believe most guests wouldn't go the extra $4 for the much bigger meal and better seating. Alternatively, guests can purchase a show-only ticket and hit the concession stand when they get hungry.
How well will it do? Great Smoky Mountain Lumberjack Feud has 1,000 seats to fill every night, and the timing of its opening meant missing the heart of the tourist season. On the other hand, the concept is unique and the flow of tourists through this area — Great Smoky is the country's most-visited national park — is strong.
There's plenty of in-town competition that follows a similar format. Visitors to Pigeon Forge can choose among five dinner theater shows, ranging from the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show (side dishes include Bust Y'er Jeans Pinto Beans, Keep It Comin' Corn Bread and No Tellin' What's In It Coleslaw) to the straightlaced Smith Family Dinner Theater (“a variety show filled with classic country, gospel, oldies rock-n-roll, bluegrass and clean family comedy”). The highest profile likely belongs to Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction.
So there's a huge market for this style of dinner show in Pigeon Forge. As the new kid in town, a live lumberjack show should be a good draw.
Elsewhere, you'd think the somewhat similar jousting knights-themed dinner shows would have worn out their welcome by now. But in fact, they're still going strong. The nine-unit Medieval Times chain charges $59.95 for dinner and a seat for its dinner/jousting tournament that's nominally set in 11th century Spain. The Tournament of Kings jousting dinner/show at the Excalibur in Las Vegas still draws a crowd while charging $56.95.
There's a ready audience for this sort of dinner-and-a-show entertainment package; we can't wait to see what the industry comes up with next.