MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There’s no Minnesota State Fair this year, but Thursday marks the first day of the food parade. In fact, the lines to get food will be shorter, and it will be delivered to your car if you have a ticket.

What fairgoers this year won’t see is the record attendance of people walking the fairgrounds, waiting for their Pronto Pups or to visit the dairy building or the Mighty Midway. Several days last year the attendance was well over 200,000 people. Thursday looked more like a traffic jam for the first-ever Minnesota state fair food parade.

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About 135 cars come through every hour, along the preset route, with the average parade time being about 45 minutes.

Sixteen vendors are featured in the parade, including Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar, Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, Tom Thumb Donuts, and other favorites. (Click here for a full list of vendors, menus and prices).

For 13 days at the state fairgrounds, Turkey to Go will be curbside to go. And like the rest of the vendors on site, owner Drew Levin didn’t know what to expect when the Great Minnesota Get-Together became the Great Minnesota Food Parade.

“All I think we are trying to do is bring normalcy to a time when it’s really not normal,” Levin said. “It’s a lot less hectic. Pretty easy for us to manage. It’s way crazier when 2 million people are in here coming in at all odd times.”

Those WCCO talked with confirmed it’s pretty much impossible to lose your place with no crowds and the only option is straight ahead.

“We were here 13 hours last year. We did it all in one day,” fairgoer Leah Kalgren said.

Giggle’s Campfire Grill is one of the last stops on the route. With his walleye cakes and duck wings, owner Tim Weiss says the food tastes as good as ever.

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“This would have been our 21st Fair. It’s our 1st Food Fair,” he said. “This is what it is. We are all in this together.”

As owner of Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, Dave Cavallaro never envisioned a State Fair like this. But for at least one year, he’s happy to go along for the ride.

“It’s quite bizarre. It’s very exciting, but it’s different, very different, and preparing for it is really different,” he said. “They are seeing what works and what doesn’t work. And this works.”

Cavallaro will only gross about 20% of what he’d normally gross. And instead of having 130 workers, he’s down to 15. But when it comes to food, fairgoers can’t taste the difference.

The parade is scheduled to run in three multiday stretches — Aug. 20-23, Aug. 27-30, and Sept. 3-7. Tickets went on sale July 31 and quickly sold out. (WCCO is giving away tickets for five carloads to go. Click here to enter that contest.)

Along with the fair foods, the 1.5-mile parade route will also feature entertainment, trivia contests and activities. Parade-goers should expect a “multi-hour experience.”

The Minnesota State Fair was canceled in May due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The last time the fair was canceled was in 1945, during the polio pandemic.

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Fair officials said they look forward to bringing the full fair experience back next summer.

John Lauritsen