When Ron Smith is asked about the most popular food at the Indiana State Fair this year, he doesn’t hesitate to answer.
It’s the same one he would have given 10 years ago. And 25 years ago. And even 50 years ago.
This marks his 53rd year as a food vendor at the Indiana State Fair, making him the longest serving vendor on the fairgrounds.
Its most stable product? Pogo.
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“I’ve been selling corn dogs all my life. When I first started selling them, they were 35 cents,” said Smith, 72, owner of Lebanon-based RE Smith Food and Drink, in Israel. Indiana, which has 11 food stalls in Indiana. State Fair.
Smith’s family has worked in the food concession business since the 1920s, traveling by train to sell hot plated lunches of roast beef at fairs and festivals across the country. Back then, itinerant food vendors built wooden stalls at every event.
Paper cups weren’t yet widely available, he said. Coffee sold at fairs, festivals and other outdoor gatherings was served in ceramic cups.
Smith began working in the business as a child.
“It’s the only thing I’ve ever done, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do,” he said.
“The hardest part was the logistics. The equipment had to move in and get set up. If you weren’t home, you had to have somewhere to sleep,” he said. “When I started, we didn’t have running water. We carried the water in what they call ‘GI canisters’. They were galvanized containers but they looked like garbage cans. You were going somewhere go get water and then we had a kitchen set up in the stand and there was a burner here that kept the water boiling all the time. That’s where you get your hot water.”
From hot plates, the family moved on to selling hamburgers and hot dogs in buns, then to the more popular hot dogs with chili sauce, as well as fish that his father filleted, dipped in dough and fried on the spot.
“It was an item you couldn’t get every day,” Smith said.
At age 19, Smith started his own concession business at the Indiana State Fair in 1969, selling hot dogs from a stand.
When he was drafted into the US Army and went to Vietnam, his father ran the stand. They were partners when he returned in 1971.
He added corn dogs later, after saving enough money to buy a fryer.
The dish had begun to be popularized in the United States in the late 1930s and 1940s.
Fair food modes
Today, there are more than 20 Indiana State Fair concessionaires, some with multiple booths, with corn dogs on the menu. A few of them are offshoots of the traditional – there’s a turkey corn dog on a stand; one is part of a barbecue dish, and mini corn dogs appear in a deli that takes standard fair trade food.
Smith, former president of the National Independent Dealers Association, saw salespeople across the show introduce new items to generate buzz. Food is the fair’s main draw – and a major factor in most entertainment events. His business is one of three year-round food vendors at the state fairgrounds.
“They’re all trying new things. They want to try the donut burger or whatever. I see some really good food. Very few of them are continuing. It’s just a fad.”
That’s not to say Smith hasn’t experimented with his menu. The Italian sausage sandwich was added in the 1970s and was a top seller for about 20 years. He is always there.
The deli sandwiches, fruit salad and vegetable kabab he got rid of a few years ago when customers bluntly told him they were coming to the fair to ingest fat and had no interest for healthier meals.
“We’ve been doing this for about 15 years, and people don’t want this stuff,” he said.
But, surprisingly, a pig in a blanket with cocktail smoked sausage fried in pancake batter and served with syrup also didn’t take, he said.
“They’re always after you to come up with something new and different, which is good for publicity,” he said. “But I’m sticking to what I’ve done all my life – corn dogs, hot dogs on a stick.”
The Smith stands still, dips the dogs in the batter and frys them on the spot.
“At first you made your own paste, then factory pasta came out. For years we were linked to Pillsbury. We used it or years and years. And then they just stopped making it. sell. to offer a new one.”
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Smith said he tried other pre-made mixes, tinkering with them for about eight years, until he found one he liked a few years ago.
However, not all of the many corn dog vendors make the fried products. Some arrive at the fairgrounds frozen with low standards that impact other vendors, Smith said.
“The problem is there are lots and lots of corn dogs being sold,” he said. “And sometimes it’s the bad ones that give the good guys a bad name.”