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Have A Corn Dog: Fair Food Without The Fair


The pandemic has, of course, closed many events across this country, including county fairs. But you can still get a taste of that summertime tradition in western Pennsylvania. Here's WESA's Kiley Koscinski.

KILEY KOSCINSKI, BYLINE: For the first time in more than 160 years, all is quiet at the Big Butler Fairgrounds this summer. But about a mile down Route 422, you can still smell those familiar fair foods.

SHELBY SEIVERS: Chicken tenders, fresh-cut fries, homemade lemonade, Philly cheesesteaks, sausages, burgers - all that kind of stuff.

KOSCINSKI: That's Shelby Seivers. She and her husband, Josh, run Three Rivers Concessions.

SEIVERS: All kinds of different pizzas, calzones, wedgies, crazy funnel cakes and deep-fried Oreos - that kind of stuff.

KOSCINSKI: Vendors like the Seivers family set up food trailers up and down the East Coast starting in January every year. But when the coronavirus reached the U.S., their season got cut short in the spring.

SEIVERS: I mean, we panicked because this is our livelihood. We don't have jobs that we go back to.

KOSCINSKI: So the Seivers set up a stand near their headquarters in Grove City, Pa. It was so successful that they decided to team up with two other families of vendors and set up along the side of the road in Butler County.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: OK, I got a large bacon cheese fry, two corn dogs.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Let me get two more, please.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Two more corn dogs?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Anything else?

KOSCINSKI: Around dinnertime, the parking lot fills up, and people stand 6 feet apart in a line out to the busy street. Jamil Williams saw the menu of fair food favorites listed in a post on Facebook. He and his partner quickly made dinner plans.

JAMIL WILLIAMS: Oh, so I got the cheesesteak. And I got the onions on top of it as well. And it comes with the cheese, you know - you know, the concession cheese. I'm enjoying it. And I got the lemonade as well, the freshly squeezed lemonade. You can't beat it.

KOSCINSKI: Abby Saviano and her husband grabbed a spot at the other end of the picnic table. She was disappointed that the fair was called off but relieved to find she could still satisfy her cravings.

ABBY SAVIANO: I have really bad heartburn being pregnant, so I told him as soon as we got here - I said I need to have lemonade, like, now. And then the corn dogs - like, you can make corn dogs at home, but these are just better to come out here, so.

KOSCINSKI: Seivers says social media has been a huge help in keeping customers in the loop about where the trailers are and where they're going next. But she credits her loyal customers for getting the word out about where to find Seivers' sausage sandwiches and fresh lemonade.

SEIVERS: So then they told, like, all the other people that they know that always come and get sausage. So, I mean, we have honestly gotten to see so many of the familiar faces that we see at the fairs. And it's been so wonderful, honestly.

KOSCINSKI: The Seivers and two other vendor families, Boyers Ice Cream and John the Greek Concessions, plan to stick together this summer. Seivers says they'll bring the fairless food tour wherever they can fit their trailers.

SEIVERS: We're just going to hit as many places as we can. We've had a lot of people approach us that have, you know, parking lots or businesses that have an area big enough for all three of us to set up in. And we can just go and see how it goes.

KOSCINSKI: For NPR News, I'm Kiley Koscinski in Butler County, Pa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kiley Koscinski