ScoutingJanuary-February 2000

A Fine Product, Served Nicely

By Kevin Crough
Illustration by Bill Basso

From selling tickets to serving food to cleaning up, Troop 60's Scouts are involved in every part of their highly profitable, annual chili dinner.

About 400 people are eating chili in the cafeteria at St. Joseph's Elementary School in Missoula, Mont. While they help consume the 200 gallons that Troop 60 has stirred together, Boy Scouts wait on their every need.

Each person gets a choice of mild or hot chili, vegetarian or beef, with toppings that include sour cream, jalapeno peppers, and onions. The main course is complemented with tossed salad, toasted garlic bread, a beverage, and ice cream for dessert.

Scoutmaster Bill Hoffman roams the room, offering encouragement to the 50 Scouts serving customers. He knows that a key to Troop 60's successful money-earner is providing consumers with a fine product served nicely.

"You've got to get the kids involved," Hoffman says. "I've been to spaghetti feeds where adults did all the serving and the kids handled nothing but cleanup. People have been impressed with the boys' demeanor when they serve chili, and it keeps them coming back."

Love that chili

People love to eat Troop 60's chili. For 15 years the dinner has been one of the most successful money-earning projects in the Montana Council. Troop records show that, since 1985, it has raised more than $80,000, which has paid for countless camp-outs and equipment.

Hoffman says the troop once tried a spaghetti dinner in the early 1980s, but switched to chili at the suggestion of a volunteer leader who had sales experience.

Serving 2,000 people in a five-hour period on a Sunday afternoon is a major project. But after 15 years, Troop 60's leaders have become veterans. In fact, Hoffman; his uncle—the troop committee chairman—Bob Hoffman; and head chef Darrel Johnson have been involved with the chili feed since its infancy.

Donations of food and other supplies from local businesses help make the event possible. In fact, many suppliers look forward to the chili feed each year and don't need a reminder request.

Much more is involved in preparing dinner than acquiring supplies. Troop committee members and older Scouts make the chili from scratch the day before the feed, which means hours of browning meat and dicing vegetables.

The ticket sales race

The competition among Troop 60 Scouts to sell advance dinner tickets is possibly more popular than the feed itself. Recently top sellers have exceeded the 500 mark. The ticket race isn't limited to Boy Scouts, either; it also includes younger, Cub Scout brothers.

Sales competition within the troop is strong because the top five salesmen can earn some fabulous prizes. After he won the 1998 ticket race, Tyler Hoffman (the Scoutmaster's son) received a backpacking tent. Other prizes include fishing gear and camping equipment.

"When we go out for donations, we look for two things," Hoffman says, "ingredients for our chili feed and things we can give for prizes. We've been very fortunate over the years in that almost all of our prizes have been donated."

Even if they don't win a top prize, Scouts can benefit from a good personal sales effort. For each $2.50 ticket a Scout sells, $1 is earmarked for his troop expenses. The top sellers can make it through the year without having to pay a fee for a single camp-out.

After cleanup, the job still isn't finished. "We send thank-you cards to each donor, written by the boys themselves," Hoffman says.

The faces of happy customers reflect the successful combination of good food and good service.

Missoula college students Will Steck and Brock Dahlman jumped at a chance for all the chili they could eat for $2.50. As each student downed four bowls of chili, Scouts Justin Stahl and Derrick Mueller politely stood by, asking only, "What can I get you, sir?" or "Do you need anything else?"

Upon leaving, the satisfied students were inspired to leave a $5 tip.

"Some of the best service in town," Dahlman said. "And good chili, too."

Kevin Crough writes from Bigfork, Mont.

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