Fair food vendor industry looks different after last summer’s closures

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — On the east side of South Dakota, people are flocking to the Sioux Empire Fair for some concerts, food and carnival rides all this week.  While the fair is all about fun for many people, it’s a week of big business for food vendors.

“That is the iconic thing you think of, fair food and carnival rides, when you talk about the fair,” Sioux Empire Fair Director of Marketing and Public Relations Courtney Hokanson said. 

For many fair goers, the food is the main attraction.

“We have corn dogs, corn brats, funnel cakes, a variety of foods, there’s plenty of foods you can come every day and you’ll find something new to try,” Hokanson said. 

But some of the vendors you may be used to seeing every year, may be missing.

“Some of them, unfortunately due to covid they had to shut down their business,” Hokanson said. 

“Last year was tough, especially on my son because he just started,” Big Daddy Concessions owner Ray Zajac said.

From mini donuts to walking tacos, Ray Zajac and his son own seven mobile concession stands that travel to fairs around the region.

“The fairs he does in the summertime are probably 90 percent of his income, so when he didn’t do last year, he lost a lot of money,” Zajac said of his son’s new venture into the concessions business. 

“We do this for our livelihood, so we really depend on people coming out and supporting the communities,” Rock and Roll Tacos owner Miguel Gutierrez said. 

The Gutierrez family is based in western North Dakota but travel all over the Dakotas selling Rock and Roll Tacos during fair season.

“Our food is steak tacos, steak nachos, steak fries, corn on the cob,” Gutierrez said. 

Both vendors say they’ve actually been able to grow their business this year because of some of the pandemic-related changes.

“Opportunity came to him, because of the covid, he got into the Huron fair because so many people cancelled out at the state fair,” Zajec said. 

So while some vendors may have folded during last summer’s closures, there are plenty of other businesses stepping up to take their place.

“We’re pretty booked thankfully this year, so we’re really excited that everything started to pick up again, people are really, everybody wants to come out, so we see bigger crowds,” Gutierrez said.

Zajac says it’s not just covid closing down some concession businesses; he says the worker shortage has played an even bigger role in limiting some vendors ability to travel to fairs around the region this summer.

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