What’s tasting great when it comes to concession food? Concession food specialists serve up their best-selling savory and sweet fare, and discuss new food innovations.
At Cavallaro Concessions in St. Paul, Minn., Owner David Cavallero serves up only one best-seller, but oh, what a best-seller it is. “We gross $1.4 million on that one product. It sounds crazy, but we have 125 employees over a 12-day period,” he remarked. “It’s the largest single concession stand in the country.” So, what do they offer? Battered, deep-fried, cheese curds. The company offers this at the Minnesota State Fair, which is the largest state fair in the nation, according to Cavallaro. “We may not have sports teams to brag about, but we have our fair,” he said.
While Cavallero sticks to the tried and true, he related that he has a friend who also sells curds, and the friend offers some new takes on the product. “Flavored cheese curds are what he does, such as jalapeno, ranch, and garlic. But what we stick with is just the white cheddar. That works very well for us.”
In years past, Cavallaro had a lemonade stand in the shape of a giant lemon, and while he no longer sells lemonade, he has manufactured giant-lemon shaped stands for the past 25 years. His cheese curd sales at the Minnesota State Fair have been popular for 18 years, and show no signs of slowing down.
At Amusements of America, in Tennent, N.J., Owner Dominic Vivona offers a wide range of tasty treats. “We have your typical ones, like cotton candy, ice cream, funnel cakes, sausage and peppers, hamburgers, pizza, and popcorn,” he explained. “Our best-selling savory concession item is pizza. Pizza is very popular here in the Northeast. We have standard cheese, pepperoni or veggie pizza.” As to sweets, “Funnel cakes probably do the best for us.” While Vivona has added no new food innovations the past year, several years back he started offering fried candy bars and fried Oreo cookies which are still on the menu and still popular. The company, which was founded in 1939, has a wide route that moves from the East Coast to the South and Midwest.
In New Athens, Ill., Terry Swyear, president of Swyear Amusements, offers a popular cotton-candy trailer, popcorn, caramel apples, corn dogs, lemonade, and recent additions such as nachos, pretzels, tacos, and buckets of waffle fries. Funnel cakes, elephant ears, and ice cream cones in a variety of flavors are also top treats. The amusement company’s Kathy’s Diner serves up more filling fare such as sausages with peppers and onions, Philly Cheese Steaks, curly fries, and strawberry shake-up drinks. The company recently added a large corn dog and lemon shake-up concession trailer, and with that addition they expanded offerings to include their hot dogs, nachos, pretzels, and tacos.
The concession stands are all brightly painted with attractive images of the food items Swyear Amusements sells to attract diners. The family-owned business has been operating for 60 years, and Swyear’s daughter Amy is in charge of managing the food concessions.
For Swyear, the most popular items on his varied menu are “corn dogs and burgers” in the savory category. For sweets, he names “Funnel cakes would be our top seller.” The company is not planning to add any new items to their menu this year.
In Wildomar, Calif., Kastl Amusements also offers a varied menu of concession items for carnivals and other events. The company has provided rides, games, and food to fairs, and private rentals throughout California, Nevada, and Arizona for over 20 years. According to Co-Owner Kay Kastl, her top sellers are corn dogs, popcorn, snow cones, cotton candy, and nachos. Other sweet and salty treats are churros and caramel apples. Number one in savory best-sellers are corn dogs, she stated. “With sweet concession items, funnel cakes would be number one. It’s one of our newer items,” she explained. “We just added it this year when we upgraded our concessions to include a brand-new hitchhiker wagon in August. It’s done very well for us.”
In Warren, Mich., Phyllis Mercurio is the owner and president of Mercurio Food Specialties. She terms her best-selling savory concession to be fried chicken. “We have two chicken trucks and a chicken trailer. Fried chicken is absolutely our top seller,” she related. Mercurio purchased the chicken fryers in the last five-year period. “We found that people have turned to chicken and away from red-meat offerings at fairs and events,” she said. “Especially younger attendees.”
On the sweet side of the carnival equation, she does very well with elephant ears. “We offer both cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar choices. People love elephant ears,” she asserted. She also offers cotton candy and caramel apples, many with unique toppings such as nuts and candy pieces. With a total of more than 40 items on her menu, Mercurio is Michigan’s largest fun-food purveyor, and has been in business since 1955. From carnivals to hoedowns, she handles large scale events of all kinds with her food.
All in all, sweet and savory treats that do the best for concessionaires nationwide tend to follow the traditional route of fair favorites; however, regional differences – such as a preference for pizza in the Northeast, affect the top sellers.