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How the Minnesota State Fair Makes the Tough Food Decisions

The Fair Food Guy explains how he makes sense of the fried food crazy

The New Foods Inside the U.S. Bank Stadium, Home of the Vikings

This year will be the final Minnesota State Fair for “the food guy,” Dennis Larson. After the 2018 fair, August 23 through September 3, Larson, will retire. For twelve days, the Minnesota State Fair gives visitors “permission to misbehave,” said Larson, the license administration manager, the man whose job it is to choose which food vendors get a coveted spot inside the fair. Last year, nearly 2 million people ditched their diets to the tune of nearly $40 million in food sales.

He shares how the fair decides where the food goes, what they do when a stand is a runaway success, and more as he approaches his last fair, after more than two decades as “the food guy.”

A giant puzzle

Larson views the fair as a giant menu. “Imagine a family walking into a restaurant. They don’t want to only see appetizers and have to go somewhere else to get dessert,” he said. Placing food vendors among the complex web of streets and attractions is a balance game. Larson makes sure there is something for everyone on each block.

A sheet pan full of chocolate chip cookies with a plastic bucket stacked with cookies in the foreground, held by a hand with red fingernail polish
Cookies and Pronto Pups are always among the favorites of fairgoers
Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar / Facebook

It’s about the classics

The new food items may garner all the attention from local media, but most people come for nostalgia.

In 2017, 44% of total food sales came from the top ten food sellers. With almost 500 items to choose from, the top ten icons dominate year after year, and that factors in to Larson’s decisions about expansions and new food offerings.

Classics mingle with just a few new vendors
Mike Marcotte / Give Me the Mike

New additions or more of the same?

Out of nearly 500 applications, Larson will place just a couple new vendors each year.

The fair must balance the need for something new with what he calls “feeding the beast.” If there are 15 minute lines at Sweet Martha’s, adding a third location to ease the burden.

One new vendor, The Hanger, will be located in the former home of the Pet Center (the pups get a new Pet Pavilion close by) on the northeast corner of Murphy Avenue and Underwood Street. The giant restaurant at the north end of the fairgrounds hais aircraft-themed décor paying homage to the building’s history as home to the aircraft show in the early 1900s. Along with one of the new foods, the menu will include a selection of local beers selected by members of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild.

The First Day of the Minnesota State Fair at 4:00 PM
From fried pickles to Sweet Martha’s, clusters of fair stands are set up like a menu: appetizers through dessert
Joy Summers/Eater Twin Cities

More Favorites and Shorter Lines

Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar is getting their third permanent location, just a couple of doors down from their successful “tent” on The Hill. Sweet Martha’s had been eyeing a third spot for a few years. The new building is huge, bright yellow and has a cookie bite cut out of the side for a peek into the action. West side of Underwood Street between Murphy and Lee avenues.

Dennis Larson, the fair’s “Food Guy.”
Dennis Larson/Facebook

Pronto Pup, is getting a new building with a peek-a-boo window into all the action. Most Pronto Pup stands are franchised and the ingredients needed to create those golden beauties on a stick have come from a warehouse building hidden out of sight at the heart of the fair. Until now. In 2018, the new building will not only function as the wholesale space for the franchised stands but also as a giant Pronto Pups vendor. Look for it across the street from the Ball Park at Underwood Street between Dan Patch and Carnes avenues.

Farmer’s Union’s lines have grown increasingly intolerable since the introduction of the nitro coffee beverages. To ease the wait time a renovation will make smarter use of the existing space. Farmers Union is located less than a block from the main entrance on Dan Patch between Cooper and Cosgrove.

Minnesota State Fairgrounds

1265 Snelling Ave N, Falcon Heights, MN 55108 (651) 288-4400 Visit Website

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