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Pasadena Strawberry Festival takes the cake

6/14/2013

By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of

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It must be true that things are bigger in Texas, at least as far as strawberry shortcakes are concerned.  Let's just say that the one which was featured at this year's Pasadena Strawberry Festival was very berry grand.

Bert Muston, Executive Director of the San Jacinto Day Foundation - a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that produces the Pasadena Strawberry Festival, described just how grand this shortcake was:  "The cake is a community project - it's actually donated to us by H-E-B  Grocery Stores, a widely-known grocery chain here in Texas.  We sell the cake, and profits go to scholarships throughout the area."

Just how big was this "World's Largest Strawberry Shortcake"?  Muston provided the following juicy details:  "The cake was 1200 square feet and contained 3240 pounds of hand-cut strawPhoto By berries.  There were 4200 pounds of white cake, 2800 pounds of strawberry glaze, and 280 pounds of whipped-cream icing."  No doubt the calorie count was also quite astronomical...

Muston said that slices sold for $3.00 apiece, and that each hefty helping could "pretty much feed a family of four."  Getting to that delicious point was certainly a team effort.  The white cakes were trucked to the festival site in refrigerated containers by H-E-B.  Numerous on-site volunteers then cut the strawberries, made the glaze, and literally pieced it all together.  It took over 100 H-E-B partners (employees), plus over 900 volunteer hours to see it through.

By no means was this shortcake the only merry berry at the festival.  Muston reported that there were also "chocolate-dipped strawberries, strawberry cheesecake, strawberry funnel cake, strawberry drinks of all kinds, strawberry ice cream, strawberry popsicles, and even fried strawberries."  Not to mention Mr. Buzz Berry...

Buzz, as his friends call him, is quite the character.  From the waist down, he almost looks like your average jeans-wearing fairgoer (except for the huge red-and-white sneakers).  From the waist up - well, that's a different story.  He's a live ringer for a giant strawberry - but his eyes, mouth and hands give him away.

Mr. Berry not only walked around the festival grounds, delighting children and adults alike with his sweet persona - but he also received local media acclaim.  Muston even hinted that there might be a Mrs. Berry and some baby Berrys coming in the future.

So why all this emphasis upon strawberries?  The festival's website explains:  "Strawberries, famous for their size and sweetness, were the first big business in Pasadena, Texas.  As many as twenty-eight train carloads of strawberries a day left Pasadena loading sheds going as far north as Chicago and Kansas City.  These strawberries not only brought premium prices, but also earned Pasadena the coveted title 'Strawberry Capital of the South.'"

The success of the Pasadena Strawberry Festival has also reflected Pasadena's heritage in many other ways.  The Pasadena, Texas website describes it as a "community of strong families and successful businesses."  This potent blend of community plus business has resulted in a huge pool of volunteers (1500 in all) who have participated in the festival's worthy endeavors.

Muston said that each volunteer pays a $15 membership fee and commits to at least six hours of service.  She added that most volunteers have given far more of their time than that.  The festival takes on a number of excellent causes, and 18 community non-profits pitch in to help out. Therefore, it's a win-win situation:  volunteers help the festival to make a healthy profit, and this profit in turn benefits the community organizations.

This formula for success is working extraordinarily well.  Muston reported that 2013's festival was a "huge success."  Attendance reached 56,000 people, "6,000 more this year than last."  She added, "We had a higher profit margin than we ever had - with record sales of beverages and cake."

The festival's 2013 advertising budget was approximately $50,000.  Muston explained, "We do more TV and radio than billboards and anything else.  We also have Facebook and Twitter.  Although our Twitter is not that popular, the Facebook page is.  We have a web page too."

In the Pasadena tradition of one hand washing the other, the city put Strawberry Festival ads on the back of water bills that were sent to numerous residents.  This innovative idea helped to spread the word really well.  Another creative promotion involved advertising the Pat Green headliner concert on the backs of bar coasters.  These coasters were then distributed to many establishments within the nearby Houston area.

Muston credits much of the festival's popularity to the featured concerts.  Pat Green's website describes him as "a Grammy-nominated hitmaker... a Texas inspiration and a mainstream country artist who can rock arena and stadium stages..."  Casey Donahue was another of this year's crowd pleasers.

Another boost to festival profits came from raising the general adult admission price to $12 ($2 more than last year's).  All other admission fees remained the same:  Senior citizens and children 5 to 11 were charged $5 each, while children 4 and under were admitted for free.

Muston pointed out that these admission fees included almost everything - such as stage concerts, puppet shows, magic acts, duck races, a petting zoo, and mud volleyball (it's not every day you get to watch players sloshing through two feet of mud in order to return a serve ball).  They did not include food, drink, the carnival, and the helicopter rides (as in real helicopters, provided by the Paradigm Helicopter Company).

The midway has been provided by Happy World (formerly Century 21) for approximately 10 years.  It not only featured such popular rides as the "horizontal" Ferris Wheel and the Zipper, but it was also strategically located amidst other popular venues such as the Agricultural Barn, the Rodeo Arena and the Children's Center.  Muston reported that its revenue "was most definitely up this year."

In fact, 2013 was a banner year for the Pasadena Strawberry Festival in a multitude of ways. One might even say (while chewing mouthfuls of luscious berries) that it took the cake!

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