These guys meat for fun, make dough too

Friday, February 22, 2008

Walking down George Street, students might notice a red Chevy Suburban parked near the Sharpe Refectory. It bears slogans and bumper stickers like “M.E.A.T.: Mankind Eating Animals Together” and a picture of a whale with a harpoon through its side. Many students are not sure what to make of this.

“I actually just wondered what it is,” said Kaitlin Fitzpatrick ’10. “I have no idea what purpose it serves, or if it’s like promoting some food company or something.”

Others assumed it is meant to be funny or satirical. “I didn’t really take it as anything serious. I just assumed it was a joke or something,” said Michael Cohen ’08. “I wasn’t really taken aback by it or anything.”

But someone who spent last summer at Nobadeer Beach, on Nantucket, Mass., would know exactly what it was.

For those beachgoers, the truck heralded an impromptu social gathering abundant with food, funny T-shirts and two friendly college students and amateur entrepreneurs who made it their job to bring people together through barbecues.

The truck is the vehicle of the M.E.A.T. Club. The two are Devin Wilmot ’10 and Kevin Meehan, a student at George Washington University, who started their “professional tailgating” business as sophomores at Deerfield Academy, in Massachusetts.

The M.E.A.T. Club holds barbecues and sells apparel with catchy taglines like the ones on the truck. The club is based around the idea that “whenever there is a plethora of meat, joy will follow,” as its Web site – – boasts.

For Wilmot and Meehan personally, the club serves as a way to help people escape their busy lives and connect with one another.

Wilmot said the M.E.A.T. Club started as a joke in reaction to a film the Deerfield’s student body was required to watch about chicken slaughterhouses. Wilmot and his classmates felt it was wrong to force every student to watch this movie, especially because the cafeteria was serving chicken cutlets for lunch, which was right after the film screening.

“Our dining hall got free-range chickens, so (the film) didn’t even apply,” Wilmot said. Frustration sparked the idea for the group they would soon create.

The club debuted its first batch of T-shirts on that semester’s “Choate Day,” during which Deerfield plays its rival high school, Choate Rosemary Hall, in various sports competitions. The T-shirts said “Choate Day 2003” on the front, and “Hungry? Why wait?” on the back, with a drawing of a pig roasting over a green flame. The pig was representative of Choate – the school’s mascot is a boar – and the green flame because of Deerfield’s color, Wilmot said.

The facetious club was an instant success for the two high school sophomores. “It was really popular. We hadn’t really put any effort into it and it still became popular,” Wilmot said. “Junior and senior year, we realized it was a big deal and kind of stepped up.”

Junior year, the duo continued to sell T-shirts and hats, and began to make money. “We raised money for the Special Olympics hockey team in Massachusetts,” Wilmot said. “So that year was fun.”

By senior year, Wilmot and Meehan began to look at the club in a new light. Though it started as a joke, it became a way for them to give busy students a chance to relax and socialize.

During their senior year, M.E.A.T. also became more lucrative.

“We raised thousands of dollars,” Wilmot said. “We obviously couldn’t take any money because we were a student group, so we had a celebration called ‘Meat Week.’ … We had a Red Bull dance, where we spent $800 on Red Bull. It was pretty out of control.”

Meat Week also included a “meat-themed poetry and art contest” and a “Festivus of Meat” with 400 pounds of ribs.

Though the two would go to different colleges after graduation, Wilmot and Meehan were determined to keep their business alive. They raised money from Deerfield faculty members, hired a graphic designer, started a Web site and made some new T-shirts. Finally, with big decals, a speaker system, a roof rack that can hold two five-foot grills and a brand-new Chevrolet Suburban, the M.E.A.T. truck was born. The first event for their business was last spring at Deerfield, which they felt was fitting, Wilmot said.

“We figured it was a good place to start. We started it there, people knew who we were. It was really successful and we had a good time,” he said. Over that summer, the club held events in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Wilmot’s hometown. They even tailgated a John Mayer concert.

Word of the group quickly spread to social circles outside their own, leading to events in Nantucket, where Wilmot said they knew very few people. They obtained vehicle permits to drive on the sand at Nobadeer Beach, which Wilmot said is known for drawing large swaths of college students. They spent two weeks there, and Wilmot said they had repeat customers.

“It’s kind of like a party on wheels to an extent. We’ve got this music you can hear from a quarter mile away,” Wilmot said. “Even if they don’t buy anything, people are definitely happy they saw us and they laugh.”

When the summer ended, the founders had to go their separate ways, Wilmot to Brown and Meehan to GWU, but M.E.A.T. carried on. And though Brown got the M.E.A.T. truck, GWU was graced by the club’s first college event. The duo ran a barbecue for the College Republicans at GWU, which Meehan said went well.

“They had all the presidential tables out there,” Meehan said. “Personally, I’m a liberal guy, but I got to meet a very successful organization and they all had a good time. It was just a good opportunity to meet new people.”

Wilmot said he has been working to plan events on College Hill.

“We’re definitely interested in doing something here. I want to talk to some of the different committees and see if we can maybe grill on Spring Weekend, or just do an event,” he said. “It’s also possible we can do something with the frats – if we go through them and avoid some of the bureaucracy maybe. If it was right on Wriston (Quadrangle), it would be a pretty good time.”

Other planned events include a second one at Deerfield and one at Milton Academy in Milton, Mass. But Wilmot said that as the club gains popularity, it has become less necessary for the organizers to seek out events.

“More and more we have to plan less and less of the events because these people pick up on us and want us to come,” Wilmot said. “They say ‘Oh, we want you to come on this date,’ or ‘Can you do a wedding?'”

While they have not yet catered a wedding, Wilmot said, “We’d like to. It would be fun.”

The group has also expanded from GWU and Brown, and its Web site now boasts chapters at other colleges and high schools, including Georgetown University, the University of Pennsylvania and Milton Academy. Wilmot said he hopes there will eventually be M.E.A.T. membership cards.

“In terms of the company, we want to be able to make it into a bigger deal – be known enough and widespread enough, so if I was traveling, I could be in Montreal, and see a M.E.A.T. club there, show my membership card and get free hamburgers,” he said.

So why do they do it?

“It’s a lot of fun,” Meehan said. “It’s a four-year job where I basically get to cook, hang out and listen to music at different events.”

The mission statement on their Web site reads, “The M.E.A.T. Club™ is a company and community based upon the idea that with feast comes joy … The M.E.A.T. Club™ started as a funny idea, but now it has become a way to bring people together.”

“For me, in all seriousness, it’s to feed people who are hungry for meat, for something fun and new,” Meehan said. “There are a lot of people out there who love to barbecue and love to eat meat, but don’t really have an organization and don’t really have a group to belong to, and this is just a good forum to meet other people.”

Wilmot said he experienced the success of that mission while on Nantucket this summer. “The other really cool thing about this – coming from the perspective of s
omeone on the front lines grilling – Nantucket is a small place, and we’d see someone wearing a shirt that we sold a few days ago,” he said. “Or people would say, ‘You’re the meat guys!'”

A truck advertising the consumption of meat, though confusing to many students, might worry others. Adam Hoffman ’10, president of the Brown Animal Rights Club and a vegetarian, said though he had not thought about it much in the past, he doesn’t support the club.

“As a vegetarian and animal rights advocate, I certainly don’t support advocating eating meat, and it’s certainly working in the opposite direction of the things I think are important,” Hoffman said.

But he added: “I don’t suspect there’s anything ill-intentioned in regards to the M.E.A.T. truck or the M.E.A.T. Club associated with it.”

Meehan said vegetarians often have questions initially, but generally develop positive relationships with the club, which serves veggie burgers at its barbecues.

“If people don’t know what we’re about, I could see this idea of them thinking, ‘Oh, well they’re just being abrasive about the whole thing,'” Wilmot said. “But I think we’re pretty open to anyone to come to these – you know, vegetarians, meat eaters, vegans. It’s not really about the meat as much as coming and having a good time.”

Still, Wilmot and Meehan are comedians before diplomats. One of the group’s shirts is a playful shot at herbivores – “We LOVE vegetarians … MORE MEAT FOR US!”