Fairgrounds host concessionaires for fair food drive-thrus

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Cars line up next to concessionaires' stands at the Canfield Fairgrounds.
Customers stayed inside their cars at the Canfield Fair’s June 5 drive-thru Fair Food Extravaganza. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

CANFIELD, Ohio — It’s not fair season quite yet. For some counties, fair season isn’t going to look the same this year at all. But with concessionaires showing up to events at fairgrounds around the state, people don’t have to wait for fair season to get their fair food.

At the Canfield Fairgrounds, June 5, hundreds of cars showed up for a drive-thru Fair Food Extravaganza. They moved slowly, snaking around several turns, in a one-way line through 12 fair food vendors. The event opened at 11 a.m. By 1 p.m., said George Roman, director of concessions and entertainment, about 375 cars had already come through the line.

“Everyone we’ve talked to, they’re excited to be out and to do something a little different,” Roman said.

A woman hands cotton candy to a customer through a car window.
Tatiana Caballero hands customers their food from The Apple Cart at the Canfield Fair’s June 5 drive-thru Fair Food Extravaganza. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

Statewide

Around the state, other fairs are hosting similar events. Stark County was one of the first, said agricultural society president Dale Klick.

“We have a lot of partners with different vendors and concessionaires. We try to take that pretty serious, and we knew they were hurting,” Klick said. Besides, “it turns out people still want their fair food.”

One of the fair board members came up with the idea of having a drive-thru for fair food vendors and brought it to Klick and the rest of the board. The fair officials decided to give it a shot. They had their first event the week before Memorial Day.

“As far as I know, we were one of the first ones,” Klick said. “We’ve actually helped a lot of fairs set theirs up.”

The fair schedules vendors for each weekend, trying to plan a broad range of types of food for each event so that vendors aren’t competing with each other as much.

“That would defeat the purpose,” Klick added.

At both the Stark County and Canfield Fair events, admission was free to customers, and vendors paid to rent space.

First

Bergen Giordani, who handles marketing and sponsorships for the Canfield Fair, said this was the first fair food drive-thru that the Canfield Fair has ever had.

“We’ve seen other counties doing it successfully, and we were approached by several of our vendors, so we thought we would give it a shot,” Giordani said.

The fair worked with the Mahoning County Board of Health, which asked the fair to keep the event, which ran June 5-7, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, a drive-thru, since the fair wouldn’t have the ability to continually clean picnic tables and seating that a restaurant would have. So, concessionaires went out to cars and took orders, then brought food back to the cars.

With only 12 vendors and hundreds of cars going through the line, that system takes time.

“We knew it was going to be a little bit of a wait,” Roman said.

Fair officials made signs to thank customers waiting and following social distancing guidelines at the event.

“With a first time event, we’re asking everyone to come with a little patience and grace,” Giordani said.

For its first event, the Canfield Fair opened up to 12 fair vendors who have participated at the fair in the past and are signed up for this year. Fair officials plan to have some more fair food events, depending on the results of the first one, and will rotate through other vendors on their wait list.

A woman hands lemonade to a customer through a car window.
Barbara Schell brings customers lemonade from D&E Lemonade at the Canfield Fair’s first Fair Food Extravaganza June 5. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

Concessionaires

These types of events won’t make up for the business that some concessionaires are losing this summer with cancellations, said Randy Kissell, president and owner of Kissell Amusements. Amusement rides are a major part of Kissell’s business. By the middle of April, most of Kissell’s May events were canceled. Then in May, summer events started canceling.

“June and July pretty much fell apart like that,” Kissell said. “Right now we’ve got probably a little under half of a schedule left, if we can hold it … without those events, it just really hurts.”

Other upcoming fair food events

There are several fair food events planned at Ohio fairgrounds for the weekend of June 12-14. They include:

The Columbiana County Fair Food Fill-Up Drive-Thru, June 13-14, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Randolph Fair Food Drive-Thru, June 12-14, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m..

The Trumbull County Fair’s Fair Food Frenzy, June 12, 3-7 p.m., June 13, from noon to 7 p.m.

Kissell started setting up his concessions stands outside Ignorant Owl, a bar and grill, in Canton, Ohio, in early April. Then, at the end of May and beginning of June, he joined the Stark County Fair’s events for a few weekends. It’s not the same as having festivals, fairs and other regular events that would be part of his schedule. But it still gives vendors a chance to sell to larger groups of people.

“I think it went better than I thought it would,” Kissell said about his first weekend at the fairgrounds.

The Stark County Fair agricultural society is planning to continue running fair food drive-thrus for the foreseeable future leading up to the fair in September.

“We’re really happy with the way it has gone,” Klick said. “It helps our vendors, and that’s really why we got into it.”

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Reporter Sarah Donaldson is a former 4-Her and a Mount Union graduate from Columbiana County, Ohio. She enjoys playing and writing music, cooking, and storytelling in many forms. She can be reached at 800-837-3419 or sarah@farmanddairy.com.

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