The waiting is finally over. The always anticipated California State Fair opens today, July 14, and with it comes its usual traditions, which of course include “fair food.”
This is the time that guests of the event put aside their general eating habits and partake in a wide variety of edible assortments ranging from longtime favorites such as corn dogs and cotton candy to just about any fried food imaginable.
Although many reports have been made regarding the fair’s food offerings, less emphasis is generally placed on the food vendors themselves.
And these vendors undoubtedly have many unique details to tell about themselves and their histories in business.
Despite their busy schedules as they prepared for this year’s fair, several vendors dedicated time to share information about themselves, the fair and their food offerings.
Milo Franks’ corn dog stands
One such individual was corn dog vendor Milo Franks, who volunteered the obvious observation that he has a surname that is quite fitting for a man in his line of business.
Franks, 61, who lives in Pilot Hill, near Auburn, said that he has seen the concessions at Cal Expo grow tremendously in his four decades of selling corn dogs at the State Fair.
“I’ve been working at the State Fair since the second year it was here (at Cal Expo) in the new facilities,” said Franks, who also sells pizzas with dough made on the fair’s premises. “I can remember there were stands here that were actually made out of those cargo vans that you can rent nowadays. And there were tents back then. Guys used to call them knock down joints. They were canvas (with 2-foot by 4-foot boards). Now it’s just nothing to have $2,000 or more invested in a stand.”
In an attempt to bring entertainment to the fair, Franks is working with his secretary, Georgeanne Clasen, to present the California State Fair’s first corn dog eating contest.
The qualifying round of the contest will be held on July 21 and 22 and the finals will be held on July 23.
The cost to enter the contest is $30 and the first place prize is $2,000, second prize is $500 and third is $300.
Although Franks, who enjoys racing hot rods at the Sacramento Raceway in his spare time, has spent two-thirds of his life as a corn dog salesman, he said that his initial plan was to be an industrial arts teacher, so he would not have to work during summers.
Franks said that ironically, he has not had a summer off in 42 years, but added if he ever retires, he will build a car and race in all of the National Hot Rod Association meets around the country.
Jungle George’s Exotic Meats and Bugs
Certainly, fair food offerings are much different today than when Franks began selling corn dogs at the fair.
A prime example of this fact is the Jungle George’s Exotic Meats and Bugs trailer, which is operated by Fremont, Calif. resident George Sandefur, a 38-year fair vendor, who began his career working in his native state of Indiana.
Sandefur said that he offers about 18 different, unusual meats such as alligator, python, raccoon and beaver meats and a full line of bugs from scorpions to crickets to maggots.
“We sell a lot of strange and unusual stuff,” Sandefur said. “Our new sandwich this year is our Maggot Melt, which is like a patty melt, but instead of a burger, it has maggots. We also have desserts, including deep fried butter and deep fried jelly beans.”
Offering unusual edibles was not always one of his trademarks, explained Sandefur.
“My trailer used to be a chicken trailer, but it just wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do,” recalled Sandefur, who has one child and five grandchildren. “So, last year, the California State Fair called and asked me to do something strange. I said, ‘How strange?’ They said, ‘Oh, maybe some strange meat or alligator or something like that.’”
Sandefur, who enjoys boating, swimming and flying standard, single engine airplanes during his spare time, said that by the following April, he introduced alligator meat, Rocky Mountain oysters and other unusual offerings at the Maricopa County Fair in Phoenix and sold out his inventory in about an hour.
“I said, ‘Oh, well, maybe I’ve got something here,’” said Sandefur, whose personal favorite exotic menu items are his alligator and yak burgers. “We just kept adding (unusual food items) and finally at the State Fair, we had probably 14 or 15 different meats and we added bugs. I just keep going on and trying to see how strange and ‘wow’ I can get. I believe that patrons, especially the younger crowd, are looking for more than standard fair food these days. They want something you can’t go to a restaurant and get. They just want something ‘wow.’”
Tempura, Inc. owner Grace Wang has been working at fairs for more than 15 years, and has two trailers at this year’s State Fair.
Wang, who is assisted in the business by her husband Richard, who designed and built one of Tempura, Inc.’s trailers, said that she is very excited about introducing crepes to guests of the State Fair through her Grace’s Crepes trailer.
“They never had crepes at the State Fair before,” said Wang, a native of the northeast part of China. “The reason why we wanted to bring this new crepe trailer to the State Fair is because we wanted to bring healthy food to the fair. We want to do less fried stuff. Our crepes, we do everything from scratch and this is our own recipe. We have about 12 different kinds of crepes.”
Tempura, Inc.’s other trailer will feature the Fresh Mexican Grill with quesadillas, chicken and beef fajitas, enchiladas, burritos, a nine-item plate, called the “Super 9,” fresh tortillas and homemade salsa and guacamole.
Wang said that some of her passions in life are reading books, attending seminars and living in Carmichael.
Regarding Carmichael, she said, “It is a relatively old community, so it’s very quiet with a lot of trees, big yards and very nice neighborhoods. I really like it. My (two) kids play with the neighbor kids, and it’s very safe.”
California Ice Cream Co.
Relatively newcomers to the State Fair, but 20-year veterans of the fair circuit, Galt residents Philip and Crystal Miller are adding sweetness to this year’s fair through their California Ice Cream Co. offerings.
The business features different flavors of ice cream, banana splits, sundaes, a McDonald’s McFlurry-like ice cream cup and their new item, a bacon maple sundae.
Crystal said that eating the bacon maple sundae is like having “breakfast in a cup.”
As a helpful tip in finding her business trailer, Crystal noted that the trailer is purple and pink and is decorated with an image of a snowball-throwing polar bear, named Cal.
When they are not working at fairs, the Millers devote time to Galt High School. Crystal is the assistant director of the color guard and Richard is a volunteer visual arts coordinator.
Although Crystal hopes that many people take advantage of the many food offerings at this year’s State Fair, she stressed that she is desirous that people come to the fair, in general.
“I hope everyone comes out and enjoys the fair,” Crystal said. “I know times are tough, but there’s a lot to do, so it’s well worth the entrance ticket.”