Ayden, Grifton and Winterville struggle through restrictions 7

Mary and Wayne Sparkman add sauce to their barbecue sandwiches in the dining room of the Skylight Inn in 2020. Barbecue is one of the markeing ideas Ayden is considering for its branding campaign.

AYDEN — Efforts to rebrand Ayden continue as a committee discusses options for the town’s new marketing identity.

Residents were invited to take part in a survey. After reviewing the results, facilitator Tom Harrison told members of the Ayden Branding Committee that the town’s barbecue heritage made it a natural selling point.

The survey’s responses and its demographics backed up this view, Harrison said.

“I was very impressed with the age range. It was pretty evenly distributed between the age ranges. It adds value and validity to the results of the survey,” he said.

“BBQ is not new. It’s not sexy. It’s not exciting but it meets the criteria and then some,” Harrison said. “The heavy lifting has already been done. It’s already what Ayden is known for.”

Still, the town has much more to offer, he said.

“Ayden is much more than barbecue. We are going to talk about that,” Harrison said.

Ayden’s brand will be used as “bait” to attract people into the area, he said.

“It’s just to get people interested in coming. Then it’s up to the town to create an environment in which people want to come back to, or move to,” Harrison said.

“A brand by itself is not going to be the salvation of the town. It’s branching out the brand and creating exciting and memorable experiences for them to come back.”

Ayden has two restaurants — Bum’s and the Skylight Inn — with a long history in whole-hog barbecue tradition.

“I think that Ayden has a pedigree that I don’t know exists anywhere else with being able to trace roots to 1830,” Harrison said.

This tradition can be promoted in the town’s museum and could be a big attraction since there are no barbecue museums in North Carolina, Harrison said.

If barbecue is chosen as the brand, the town could use it to its advantage to attract businesses with similarities.

But not all on the committee were sold on the idea of barbecue being the brand.

Albi McLawhorn of Greenville suggested marketing the Collard Festival.

“There isn’t another collard festival in the United States. Lexington claims to be barbecue capital,” McLawhorn said. “If you go the direction, I just think you have a lot more crowded airspace to find that angle.”

Committee members went online and found there were other collard festivals. Some also said there were other reasons why the festival would not be a good brand.

For one, it didn’t meet the criteria of community marketing expert Roger Brooks, who says a brand should not be centered on a festival. The brand should also not be seasonal, according to Harrison.

“The struggle with collards is the legs. Where do you go with it?” asked Gwen Yiznitsky, adding she has had to educate Northerners about collards.

McLawhorn said the barbecue brand only would highlight two businesses and disfranchise the others.

“I don’t think disproportionate advertising is an issue. I’m thrilled anytime they come to downtown Ayden,” said Yiznitsky, owner of Gwenndy’s Goodies, adding she has had customers come to her shop after stopping for barbecue.

“As bakery, I have pigs with aprons and hats out front,” Yiznitsky said. “As a business that’s not either barbecue or collards, I’m excited about having something that everyone is excited for.”

The town could expand on the barbecue brand and have tours of the local pits, an event with greased pigs, a community center with educational events and other things that will allow the town to “take ownership” of the brand, she said.

The brand could also be promote an artisan community, McLawhorn said, adding Bum’s, Skylight, and Gwendy’s are artisans of their craft. Quilt Lizzy would be an addition for this brand, she said.

“That could work but you’re not there yet. It doesn’t exist enough,” Harrison said.

The committee took no action on formally selecting a brand.

Contact Donna Marie Williams at dwilliams@ncweeklies.com.