Category Archives: Life Purpose

BEHIND RIBFEST – Feature-Length Documentary Film Provides All-Access Behind-the-Scenes Look at Naperville Ribfest

by Stuart Meyer

For the past 26 years, the Naperville Exchange Club has produced Naperville Ribfest as a charitable event which donates 100% of net proceeds toward the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence.  Prepare to be entertained and inspired as you journey behind-the-scenes of the Naperville Ribfest for an exclusive inside look at every aspect of this volunteer-run charitable BBQ and music festival.  Behind Ribfest  is a feature-length documentary film produced by my production company, Social Frequency Media Communications, and after making some rounds at film festivals we’ve decided to release the film online in two parts.  We hope you’ll watch and share this film with others.  Watch the film below or simply click here.

World of Naperville is Back – 143,542 Visits Strong!!!

Riverwalk_Shelby and Ben at SunsetOn May 26th, 2006 I first wrote my inaugural post in welcoming everyone to the “World of Naperville”.  This blog was born out of my frustration of feeling disconnected from the the incredible “can do” community I chose to live in and raise my family craving a sense of my former small town roots.

My daily commute was very long and there were many days during the winter months I never even saw Naperville by daylight during weekdays.   For the next 4 years, I would continue my plight to stay “virtually” involved and invested in Naperville by being a voice that documented all of the heart and soul of our community from the perspective of someone who actually lives here.

In this time, I’ve done everything I could to contribute my passion and talents to our community.  I shot and directed a documentary film about Ribfest, I’m working on a longer term documentary film about an internationally-renowned local arts icon in the world of opera and ballet, I participated in the Naperville Citizens Academy, I’ve coached little league football, exhibited my Naperville photography including 4 commissioned photos that hang in the lobby of a corporate building on Diehl Road, I’ve volunteered at my children’s elementary school, I’ve delivered a school assembly presentation about being a composer, I’ve worked with local restauranteurs producing food-based media and have observed many things that have changed and some that have not changed at all.  I’ve seen the prosperous times and the heartbreaking lows impact our community.

Over the past year or so, my posts have declined for a very good reason.  I started my own company and now work here in Naperville on a daily basis.  But now, I feel I’ve grown distant from my community by spending a little too much time in the office disconnected.  So two things are happening, first I’m renewing my mission to publish this blog and second, in the next couple of months I’m moving my office into Downtown Naperville inside the walls of one of the oldest buildings!!!  I’m very excited about the road ahead and hope you will stay tuned for more insights and observations from the World of Naperville.

With Gratitude.  SM

Small Town Flavor TV Show – Bardstown, Kentucky Series (Episodes 1-5)

Small Town Flavor is a TV show hosted by Panini Pete of Food Network fame which I created and currently produce.  The show is a beautiful portrait of a day in the life of American small towns… a dawn-to-dusk day trip journey through the one-of-a-kind history, people, places and food culture.  I hope you’ll watch, spread the word about Small Town Flavor and visit these amazing towns.  Below you’ll find episodes 1-4 of the current Bardstown, Kentucky series (featuring the music of award-winning singer/songwriter Michael Brunnock):

More series and episodes to come!  Become part our Small Town Flavor Family on the Small Town Flavor Facebook Town Page by clicking here.

SAVE MAIN STREET – Why the Whole World Needs a Little Small Town Flavor

By Stuart Meyer

The long days of the Summer of 1979 were waning and the August haze had softened the sun’s piercing rays in the Southern skies above.  I anxiously hurried out the front door racing through the invisible cloud of humidity toward the family car.  In the South, this was the time of year for which iced sweet tea was invented.

That's me... back in the 1970s with precision bowl helmet haircut.

Earlier that morning, the local newspaper sat in a state of disarray on our round family breakfast table.  As I glanced down at the pile of news, there sat a full-page advertisement partially blanketed by the Sports section.  The black-and-white text of the ad heralded the three most dreaded words feared by any small town kid who roamed freely upon Mother Nature’s playground through those long Summer days… “BACK TO SCHOOL”.

The Family Car - Our 1972 Buick Electra

As the youngest, I wrestled my way into the car and laid down on the coveted floor boards of the backseat rather than brave the smoldering aromatic blaze of the vinyl bench-like seat.  Walking barefoot over fiery coals was no match for the backseat of a 1972 Buick Electra baking atop the driveway in the heat of a Kentucky Summer.

A little ways down the road, I re-surfaced from the depths of the floorboard and turned my attention to peering out the window at all the familiar landmarks as we made our way toward the courthouse square.  As a kid, every trip into downtown was like a small town reunion as all main roads flowed into “the square”, much like the precious lifeblood which flows into the heart.

The State Theater - Elizabethtown, KY. Photo courtesy of

The Dixie Highway flowed in from one direction and Mulberry St. the other.  The unique character of each original downtown building stood proud like a strong, yet silent actor quietly emitting its own unique story and history.  A lone cannonball fired during the Civil War still sat lodged in the second story of a corner building just down from the town’s first movie house, the 1940s era State Theater.  Just down from the square was a regular Farmer’s Market, where local farmers sold a little bit of their harvest to the community from the back of their pick-up trucks.

We arrived in downtown and I spilled out of the backseat onto the street along with my older brother and sister.  I sometimes felt as though we were related to everyone in town as everyone seemed to know everyone.  I stood there on the street for a moment and looked all around with wonder almost as if time had frozen for just a few moments.  Our destination was the People’s Store and the Factory Outlet shoe shop of which we always came through the back alley entrance.  A trip downtown to buy some new school clothes and a new pair of shoes was one of the cherished consolations of the collision course with Summer’s end and the eminent start of a new school year.

Stuart Meyer is the show creator and producer of "Small Town Flavor" a web TV show hosted by Panini Pete

Over the many years of my life which have opened and closed like chapters of an epic American folk literature work, this particular “page” of my own auto-biographical volume of small town life has remained permanently imprinted upon my heart and mind.  The collection of experiences and time spent in small towns throughout my first 27 years of my life followed by the past 12 years in the Chicago area have served as the inspiration for the web TV show I created, “Small Town Flavor”.

Small towns and their downtowns are like the “grassroots” of American life, firmly rooted as one-of-a-kind blades of grass in the rich and abundant soil of our American identity.  Life has taught me that the essence of small town life may very well contain the secrets to happiness as measured above all else by the collective and individual relationships we share with each other.  Interestingly, the scientific world is catching up as research has shown that fundamental happiness is rooted in the strength of our social connections.

In many ways, food has also defined our connection to each other throughout history.  From the time when hunting and gathering food was the main business of the day to modern times in which we use our shared connection to food to strengthen social bonds.  In small towns, local food culture is not just about subsistence, it’s ingrained in the identity, tradition, rituals and pride of the community.

I believe the next great chapter in American history is threatened by the decline of our relationships, our connection and our accountability as “neighbors”.  While we all need money to make a living, the one thing we need most to make a happy life is each other.

For these reasons, we should celebrate our small towns, share their stories, their unique food culture and enrich our lives through the lessons we can all learn from the small town way of life.   I like to think we either come from small towns or there is a little bit of small town living within us… on our streets, in our neighborhoods, throughout our cities, around our states and across our country.

These thoughts reside at the heart and soul of what Small Town Flavor is all about and we hope you’ll become part of our Small Town Flavor Family.

SAVE MAIN STREET… watch Small Town Flavor.

Small Town Flavor – The Story of the Little TV Show that Could

 Small Town Flavor is “a heart-warming, dawn-to-dusk day trip into the living nostalgia, lives, perspectives, traditions and food culture of small towns in America.”

It was November 2nd, 2010 and after months of development and production planning, I had made the long journey to South Alabama in my tiny hatchback car crammed to the gills with a modest setup of production equipment.  Though I had driven 17 hours straight through the day before, I was awake and getting into gear at 6:00 AM preparing to head to the first location for the first day of shooting the first episode of a show I had already watched many times in my mind… now all I needed to do was bring it to life.

Rewind briefly to July 2009, when I took the plunge in the middle of the economic downturn to start my own new media company, Social Frequency Media Communications.  Life has taught me that money is merely a measure of survival, not of purpose and it was time to focus my life full-time on my relentless creative spirit.  People often ask me about the business story behind Social Frequency and I must say I never get tired of saying that I basically built a company around everything I love to do.  On the good days, it’s beyond rewarding… on those marginally less inspiring days, it’s still a rush to know that I’m now in year 3 and still building this dream one little piece at a time.

Back to 2010,  in full Ed Wood fashion I made the decision to invest my time and expense to write, direct, shoot, edit and even compose/perform the theme music for a full-length, fully produced one-hour pilot episode.  The concept had danced in my mind for a while and it had fulfilled the three creative decision-making criteria.  First, it was going to be allot of fun capturing the spirit, warmth, traditions and food culture of small town America… a way of life that comprised my childhood in Kentucky.  Second, this is a show I wanted to watch.  Third, I truly believe this show can help people through the many life lessons and stories shared.  As often is the case, my mind was set and there was no turning back.

While the clock told me it was 6:30 AM on that November morning in Alabama, it didn’t feel much like the deep south.  The hotel room was still very dark and as I slowly walked toward the window shades I was beginning to think that either the clock was wrong or perhaps someone had meticulously boarded up the windows during the night.  As I swung open the heavy shades, those thick heavy-duty solar-deflector shields closest to the window, all I could see were sheets of heavy rain against skies what were only slightly lighter than the dark of night.  Here I was, ready for the triumphant start of going out to do what I’d been talking about and planning for many months, ready to give birth to Small Town Flavor and there was Mother Nature laughing so hard that her tears made it rain even harder.  Of course, the real reason she laughed was the simple fact the first location of the day was out on an exceedingly long pier stretching into Mobile Bay where we were to film the morning cast net fishing regulars.

Rewind to May 2010.  I was at the Farmer’s Market in Naperville shooting a segment for another show concept with the Executive Chef of the White Chocolate Grill all about how foodies and cooking enthusiast can source ocean-fresh seafood in the Chicagoland area.  Prior to the shoot, Robert had given me a call and told me Panini Pete, his former roommate from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), was in town for the National Restaurant Show and asked if it was okay to bring him along.  I told Robert it would be no problem whatsoever.  After all, we were shooting the segment with the Fabian Seafood truck out based in Galveston, TX and Pete lived near the Alabama side of the Gulf.  Within the first few minutes of meeting him, I suggested that we put him in our segment and Pete was more than happy to help out.  During the shoot, the wheels in my mind started turning as I visualized Pete hosting this show I had envisioned for a while about a day-in-the-life of small towns.  Not only did Pete fit the ideal personality but he also had the added experience of having appeared on a couple of well-known Food Network shows.  That next week, I gave him a call and pitched the show concept along with the idea of him being the host and I quickly realized this little show about small towns was as much in his heart and soul as it was in mine.

The next question was location, location, location.  At that point, the idea was to shoot two full-length shows in which we narrowed the list down to places we both knew quite well.  For me, it was the country ham, bourbon and Americana quality of Bardstown, KY which was a short 15 miles from were I grew up.  As for Pete, his nomination was a no-brainer as he suggested everything we could hope to find in a small town could be found in Fairhope, Alabama… which also happens to be the home of Panini Pete’s Cafe.  Soon thereafter, I concluded it would be best to focus on one pilot episode and the next thing you know it was July and I was sweating my way through Fairhope scouting locations with Pete in thick South Alabama Summer air.

Fast-forward again to that first day of shooting on that dreary rainy Alabama morning in November 2010.  My phone buzzed with the illumination of a text message from Roland, the ring-leader for our group of cast net fishermen:

ROLAND:   “Good morning from paradise.  I have everyone lined up for 7:00 AM.  Weather is at the best very iffy.  Rain then cold and wind.”

ME:  “What are our chances of rescheduling for perhaps Thursday or Friday morning?”

ROLAND:  “Weather for thurs and fri is for cold and windy.  Not conducive to throwing a net… However, the weather can turn on a dime here.”

I scraped together the best optimism I could and drove down the hill to the pier where I was to meet up with Pete.  Roland gleaned optimism that the weather was preparing to “turn” on that dime he mentioned.  I pulled up to discover an ample supply of available parking spaces facing the Pier and the Bay.  Pete scrambled over and contorted his taller-than-average frame into the passenger seat of my tiny hatchback car, and there we sat.  He, too, evangelized tiny rays of optimism that it was going to clear up and sure enough, around 7:30 AM the rain trickled to a stop and, one-by-one, cars began to arrive full of cast net fishing gear and humor.  I scrambled hurriedly to assemble the camera, complete with it’s small network of mounted and wireless microphones atop a stabilizer system I had recently purchased.  Pete grabbed the tripod and we headed out onto the pier.  Roland arrived full of that signature Southern warmth and humor encouraging us to move fast as another band of rain was approaching.

I’ll have to say, my spirits began to lift and my mind calibrated itself on the production plan, host script, camera settings, microphone volume adjustments and our cast of warm-hearted characters who had assembled to breathe life into this little show about small towns.  I was walking tall with a confident purpose… and walking… and walking… and walking as this is one long pier we’re talking about.  About half way out on the pier, with thousands of dollars of camera/sound equipment in my hands, the skies again opened up and the wind raced in to greet us.  Pete and I scrambled to a tiny area with a sheet metal roof and restrooms at the mid-point of the pier to seek refuge for the equipment.  While the roof overhead helped a little, it still couldn’t stop the constant spray of rain which proudly rode atop the chilled wind making a b-line for my camera with precision accuracy.

As for the fishermen, with smiling grins on their faces and undoubtedly the sight of me and Pete as their source of suppressed laughter, they marched on… after all, they were here to cast their nets in hopes of a breakfast catch.  Suffice it to say, if there was a time that one might characterize as a low point for me in this show’s journey I believe I probably brushed up rather cozily near the “rocks” which rested narrowly between me and the “bottom” at that point.  I was here to make a TV show and this was a moment of truth.  It was time for the camera to roll and that is exactly what happened.  We regrouped and headed back out toward the sprawling nets being cast into the water.  All in all, we were able to capture a number of shots, dialogue and some great B-roll of a small variety of fish being caught, my favorite of which was Sheep Heads which have tiny rows of perfectly symmetric human-like teeth.  Pete never appeared to lose his optimism and if he did on that first morning, he did an exemplary job of concealing any doubt.

Finally, the rain was back to stay and we decided on a re-shoot which ended up taking place under beautifully clear and sunny skies the last day of production.  However, this first shoot was to fuel plenty of continuous gut-wrenching laughter and epic tales that offered us numerous welcome reprieves from the intense focus of the production process.

This particular start to Small Town Flavor always brings a laughing smile to my face for a couple of reasons.  First, the show’s premise is a chronological dawn-to-dusk day trip through these extraordinary towns.  As such, the cast net fishing segment is the very first segment of the first episode, yet the bulk of it was shot on the very last day of production.  If you watch closely, you will see some b-roll close-ups which were salvaged from the first day of shooting, namely a nice haul of fish caught by our Army Special Forces Veteran, Tony, the man with the mad cast net skills.  As for Pete’s attempt with the cast net, the story is best told by simply watching the first episode (Part 1).  Finally, my special memories from the first day of shooting is further memorialized in the outtakes at the end of episode 1 where you can actually see Pete walking toward me on the pier in the rain carrying the tripod offering some self-affirming optimism.

So, there began the little TV show that could and it certainly has not proven to be the last of the adversity we have faced.  Once the first episode of Small Town Flavor was finished and “in the can”, we moved into pitch mode and successfully connected the show with programming executives and producers at four well-known cable TV networks.  The conversations and feedback were encouraging and plenty of suggestions were offered as I listened carefully with a mind as wide open as a parachute.  Given the low overhead of my Ed Wood approach to production,  my hope was for it to be good enough to provide a glimpse into the potential of this show.  However, at the end of the day we ended up o-4 with a batting average of .000 because it just wasn’t compatible with the current mix and formula out there.  Of course, I’m sure that once upon a time there were network executives who passed the first time around on the idea of shows about pawn shops, junk hunters, lumberjacks and the mere thought of 8 seasons of audiences tuning in to watch crustacean pots being pulled from the ocean.

Despite these early setbacks, there has never been a single wavering moment where I thought to myself, “maybe it’s just not a good concept”.  As a matter of fact, the only thought that traveled through my mind and continues to this day is, “Why don’t they get it?”  My belief in this show has never been stronger and both mine and Pete’s conviction is unwavering, which is why we’ve gone grassroots with Small Town Flavor as an original web TV series to win over our audience family one “local” at a time.

This show is perfect for the social media age as it is entirely within reach in terms of not only bringing the audience, which we call “Small Town Locals”, together to share experiences but also as a movement of road trippers who get out there to retrace the steps of each episode in exploring these one-of-a-kind small towns.

One of my dreams for this show is to ignite a small town tourism movement, which not only celebrates the existence, preservation and revitalization small towns as well as the small town way of life.  I like to think of it as our little “Save Main Street” movement.

In the end, I believe everyone needs a little small town flavor in their life as there is a little bit of “small town” in all of us.  It’s about slowing down and being present and accountable in each moment of our lives.  It’s about the quality of our connection and accountability to each other.  It’s about how food culture brings us together.  It’s about taking pride in our communities.  It’s about finding ways to simplify and streamline happiness.  It’s about living a daily life of gratitude and appreciation realizing how “less” can be so much more.  It’s about never feeling like your alone.  It’s about learning how to tune into your life.  It’s about connecting with the truths and wisdom of life.  It’s about being inspired by the small things.  It’s about the true meaning of “home”.  It’s about traditions.  It’s about satisfying our soul’s appetite for peace and comfort.  It’s about escaping the rat race of life.  It’s about the stories you’ll hear… the people you’ll meet… the traditions you’ll experience… the food culture you’ll learn about… it’s about getting a regular helping of Small Town Flavor.

Pete and I want to welcome you to town and invite you to join us on this journey and spread the word by becoming a Small Town Local on Facebook and watching Small Town Flavor.  Save Main Street, watch Small Town Flavor!

“Behind Ribfest” Documentary Film to Debut at the Naperville Independent Film Festival on September 18th

Over a year ago, I began production on a documentary film about Ribfest.  Many of us know the festival from the perspective of attendee, but few get the chance to go behind-the-scenes of everything that goes into making this volunteer-run festival a success in raising millions of dollars toward the elimination of child abuse and domestic violence.  This film follows along with the Naperville Exchange Club, the rib teams, the musical entertainment acts, the volunteers and the faces behind the festivals ultimate mission.  I’m pleased to report the film is finished and will debut on September 18th at the Naperville Independent Film Festival at 7 PM at the Ogden 6 Classic Cinemas.  As a little teaser, take a look at the promo below:

Get Ready for Naperville Ribfest, Celebrity Chefs and the Ribfest Documentary Film

Who’s ready for Ribfest 2011!  It’s been an amazing year-long journey since last year’s Ribfest.  As you may recall, I have been working with the Exchange Club in producing a feature-length documentary film about Ribfest, of which production began almost exactly one year ago on June 18, 2010 and after a final shoot a couple of months ago, post-production/editing is in full motion.  The documentary is a behind-the-scenes look not only at what it takes to bring Ribfest to life each year, but more importantly the human stories behind the festival’s solitary mission of donating all net proceeds to area agencies working toward the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence… over $9 million to date.  Stay tuned for our premiere this Fall at the Naperville Independent Film Festival.

I’m also very excited to announce that another non-profit I’m helping out, America’s Chefs, will be featuring celebrity chef-hosted live cooking shows in the new America’s Chefs Kitchen Arena, including a daily hands-on kid’s cooking demo in which kids’ and parents and learn to make and actually prepare a healthy dish together.   The mission of America’s Chefs is to provide a “taste of home” and food/culinary entertainment to service men and women of our U.S. Military across the country and around the world, including events in the Persian Gulf region and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Each chef is an alumni restaurant owner from the hit Food Network series “Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives” as well as numerous appearances elsewhere, including “Guy’s Big Bite”, the “Guy Fieri Roadshow Tour”, ABC’s “Extreme Home Makeover” and two of which are in the process of starring in their own food TV shows.  Take a look at the image posted up above for more details.  You definitely will not want to miss this one-of-a-kind opportunity.  Below you’ll find a couple of episodes I produced for America’s Chefs TV which provides an inside look at their mission.  Ribfest will be America’s Chefs first major civilian event and they are looking to build support and awareness for their non-profit mission.

See you at Ribfest! SM