The Great Minnesota Get Together is an end of summer ritual for almost 2 million visitors each year. That’s a lot of potential customers in one place for any small business. State fair food vendors do their best to attract as many of those customers as they can offering everything from cotton candy and snow cones to deep fried bacon and salad-on-a-stick. There’s money to be made at the fair, but how much and who makes it?
Even if you have a great idea for a new food-on-a-stick, don’t count on getting a chance to try it at the fair, at least not any time soon. Openings for new vendors are few, and operating a booth comes with costs.
Space for vendors is limited and getting in is a competitive process. Few established vendors give up their space, and the fair receives many more applications than there are open spaces. An application is kept on file for three years, if you meet fair criteria, so don’t hold your breath. Applications are collected year-round with no deadline to apply.
Making money at the Fair
Unfortunately, it’s a myth that vendors earn enough during the twelve days of the fair that they don’t have to work the rest of the year. This may work for a few of the very top food booths, but not for the majority. Some vendors go to multiple fairs throughout the summer and others do it for extra money and the excitement or exposure.
Food vendors pay 15 percent of their gross revenue, after applicable taxes, to the fair. Other costs include electricity, utility assessments, insurance and don’t forget parking and the cost of admission to the fair each day. Those are just the costs to have a booth; there are also the costs of doing business, like employees and supplies.
According to fair officials, a typical food booth grosses about $55,000 in sales during the fair. Then take out sales tax, the 15 percent that goes to the fair and all the costs involved in operation. A good vendor will profit about 25 percent, not usually enough to live on for a year.
Top Earners at the Fair
The average booth may not make enough to take the rest of the year off, but there are a few that do. The top money makers at the fair include:
Sweet Martha’s Cookies is at the top of the list year after year. A former elementary school teacher, Martha Olson applied to have yogurt and cookies at the fair in 1979. The fair asked her to only have cookies, and they have been such a hit that she now grosses over $2 million a year.
Giggles Campfire Grill opened in 2000 on the top of machinery hill. The location had a slow start, but their salad-on-a-stick has brought in the customers.
The Corn Roast booth is another fair favorite, selling almost 200,000 ears of corn during the 12 days of the fair.
The Dairy Association Ice Cream, Fresh French Fries, Tom Thumb Donuts and Cheese Curds are also top sellers.
I have visited all of these vendors on more than one occasion and will be back to visit them again. Making the rounds of the food booths is a favorite pursuit at the Minnesota State Fair. What are your favorites?