Profits Don't Come Easy at Minnesota State Fair

Updated: 08/26/2013 4:09 PM By: Scott Theisen

The Minnesota State Fair draws nearly 2 million visitors every summer so the heavy foot traffic makes it a choice location for nearly 800 businesses hawking everything from corn dogs to tractors. But officials and vendors say big profits don't come easy.
There's a popular myth that food vendors earn a year's worth of income in 12 days.
"You get a food booth at the fair, you spend the rest of the year counting your money and waiting for the next fair. That's just really not true," Dennis Larson, who oversees the fair's food and beverage vendors, told Minnesota Public Radio for a story that aired Monday ( ).
Businesses pay a hefty cost to be there. Vendors pay the fair 15 percent of their food sales and 18.5 percent of their beer sales. There are also expenses for labor, supplies, taxes and other costs.
"The reality is a typical or medium booth here will do about $55,000 gross in sales. But that's gross," Larson said. "They have to pay sales tax. They have to pay us 15 percent. A good operator could bring home maybe 25 percent ... so he's going to make a few thousand dollars. You're not going to live on that."
Still, demand for fairgrounds real estate is high. John Mancini runs one of the Twin Cities' most popular restaurants but it took him more than a decade to grab a space. Mancini and his brother have spent a lot - they won't say how much - on stone work, stainless steel appliances and other renovations to bring the venerable Mancini's Char House to the fairgrounds.
Will they make money?
"I'll let you know Labor Day," Mancini said.
Mancini hopes he'll at least win new customers for their St. Paul landmark. It's not just about money, though. Mancini said he always wanted to work at the fair when he was growing up, so this is a dream come true.
"Mancini's got a lot of history. The fair has a lot of history," he said. "It's a good combination."
Patti Peterson and her husband, Charles, turn a profit from Peterson's Pork Chops. She said it helps pay tuition for their daughter, who's in her seventh year of college, and gives them some money for fun.
Each August, the Petersons have to get the big trailer that houses their restaurant to the fairgrounds and set it up. And they have to recruit about 40 workers to cook and serve chops and chicken. Their workdays start around 6 a.m. and end about 1 a.m. the next morning.
"Twelve days of hell," Patti Peterson said. But despite the grind, the Petersons said they really do enjoy the fair.

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