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The Food Vendors’ Fight To Get Into The Minn. State Fair

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FALCON HEIGHTS (WCCO) — Many Minnesotans wait all year for the State Fair food, but food vendors wait much longer just to get their business into the Great Minnesota Get Together. In fact, it’s a fierce competition.

According to State Fair License Administration Manager Dennis Larson, less than 1 percent of all applicants ever make it on the grounds.

“It has a reputation as being the biggest food fair in North America,” said Larson.

This year, out of a waiting list of 576 food vendors, only five of them were accepted into the state fair.

Larson said with high demand, and low turnover, he’s looking for businesses that stand out, a process that on average can take three to five years, but can range anywhere from days to decades.

“I kind of feel like that scene from the movies when the manager calls up the guy from the minor leagues and says come on down. It’s one of my most favorite phone calls,” he said. “The extreme is somebody who lost count after 20 years, and said, ‘my dad used to register before I started registering, and now we finally got in.'”

Chuck Lee, owner of Starberi Frozen Yogurt, said the call finally came this year, after a five year wait.

“Seems like eternity, but we finally got in,” said the Dallas, Texas business owner. “It is literally one of a kind, no where anywhere has anything like this.”

Karen Rutana said the same call last year meant her hot apple dumpling business, based out of Ohio, had risen to the top.

“I just fell off my chair, and got off the phone, and said to my husband, and I was shaking, literally, shaking, and said, ‘we got into Minnesota!'” she said.

The competition even stretches to the grandstand, where Linda Graham’s bottle cap art will soon display her lifelong dream for the very first time.

“I just about screamed,” she said, of that lucky phone call. “This is the very first time we have a booth, I’ve actually all my life I think it started when it was in the womb and my mother ate a corn dog, I’ve had the ambition of being at the Minnesota State Fair.”

It’s the same reason why Lee brought his business in from Texas.

“I feel really, really blessed,” he said.

Larson said he often dispels a myth for many applicants, who believe the Minnesota State Fair is a get rich opportunity. He says the average stand pulls in about $50,000 to $55,000 during the fair — before paying taxes and employees.

“It’s a good part-time job, is what we call it, or vacation fund, or ‘put your kids through college’ kind of money. It’s not ‘retire and count your money the rest of the year,'” he said.

Larson said, for most, it’s a full-time job touring fairs across the country, or second to their day job.

One more thing Larson said: it doesn’t necessarily have to be on a stick. Of the more than 300 food vendors at the fair this year, more than 60 items are on a stick.

“I’ve seen many things attempted to put on a stick, thinking they will get in,” said Larson. “It has to make sense to be on a stick, or why do it?”

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