Midway Millennials is an ongoing series profiling the new generation of fair professionals
Tiffany Janas, owner of B. Original Foods is not just a third generation concessionaire, but a third generation in a matriarchal lineage of midway food providers. Judy Harloss, her grandmother started in the food business - with Barrett's Fudge, and her mother, Patty Rowland, founded and currently owns/operates Barrett's East Coast Foods, a full-service food fair food company.
B. Original Foods was founded in 2009 and now includes 15 different stands, featuring poppers , a Grab stand and Gyro & Chicken Pitas. B. Originals travels with Powers Great American Midway, providing food services. (Tiffany Janas is married to Marc Janas, Public Relations Director, Powers Great American Midways and co-owner of B. Original Foods.)
Funnel Cake Allure
Tiffany Janas grew up on the midway, and operated Barrett's East Coast Foods before starting her own company seven years ago. "I traveled every year with mom. The carnival life is normal to me."
Her mother did push her to attend college after graduating high school, but higher education held little enticement compared to the fair. She dropped out of school very early in her first semester. It was a sunny, late summer September day when she looked out of the window in a classroom and knew where she needed to be. "I immediately drove from the school to the fair where my mother was at and I told her I don't want to be sitting in some classroom, I want to be making funnel cakes."
With Powers Great American Midways, B. Original Foods is a concessions subcontractor a food & beverage provider within the Powers midways at fairs, festivals and other events from March to November. The company also provides food and two other festivals independent of the Powers route. Tiffany Janas is in charge of everything, from filing permits, managing inventory, supervising a staff of 15, which includes H-2b workers, to designing food stands. Her management style can best be described as hands on, because she is more often than not, either preparing food or selling it to fairgoers.
"We are fair people and fair people always work hard," she said. "Carnies are smart, business people, and you work hard, whether it is working the fryers or digging a wheel of the stand out of the mud, you keep moving forward."
Work & Excitement
Enthusiastically embracing both the hard work and the energy of the American Pop Culture phenomenon known as the fair midway epitomizes most of the millennials now making their presence known in the industry. "This business still excites me," she said. "I think for a while, some people in the business were not excited, they were just doing the same old, same old. My generation and the next generation in the business is excited about the business. That excitement is coming back, at least I hope it is."
She added, "I do feel we are making the fair business more professional."
Her typical day starts well before the fair opens, when she does paperwork, checks on health permits and manages stock. In fact, inventory ordering is a major part of the job - estimating stock amounts of what will be sold at a specific fair and night, ensuring the inventory of food - as well as utensils, napkins, cups, etc. - and because the food is sold open-air, inventorying practices resist complete computerization.
In the parlance from the pre-computerized inventory management past, she still needs to "eyeball the stock". "The day starts with our count sheets, and we count everything, the cups, products, etc., on every ever trailer," said Tiffany Janas. "We keep a daily log on how much stuff we sold the day. We generally base our inventory orders on what we sold the previous year, although there are few different factors we consider. There's no bar codes to scan, so inventory is still manual."
Related to inventory is price management. The wholesale food inflation that swept through the industry in 2014 seems to have abated, but one of the ramifications is making sure only minimal food is wasted during preparation. "we are very cautious about waste, everyone is trained not to be wasteful," she said.
Minimizing waste is critical in a business with tight margins and little price elasticity. Two years ago, for example, wholesale beef prices nearly tripled. The dilemma is that the price charged to the customer remains the same. "The beef spiked, but we did not want to charge over $6 a burger," she said. "People won't pay more than that, I would lose business. It affects our bottom line but raising the price would affect it more."
Another management area is food safety. Tiffany Janas is SafeServ Certified, and she has to ensure that all B. Original Foods stands are up to the codes of the specific fair Powers Great American Midway is playing. "The rules are very strict and they keep getting stricter, especially for temporary events, like fairs and festivals," she said. "We are basically setting up a full restaurant every week. The rules are as strict or more strict for food selling at temporary events."
She added, "(Inspectors) come out and inspect at every fair, especially for cleanliness and making sure of the food temperatures, the cooking temps, the thaws temps, The inspectors are very strict. We need designated areas for produce washing, and a separate sink for hand washing."
Permits are filed weeks before each event, and filing also requires Tiffany Janas to research each specific date because the regulations usually change annually. In addition, the different health departments and their different regulations, which usually differ not just state by state, but county by county and even by municipality. Then she makes sure that that B. Original Foods is up to the latest specification. "Counties and towns can be a different set of rules than the state, so you have to call them every year when you file the permit. Inspectors always come out and they expect you to know the latest rules.
Even though the regulations get more restrictive every year, "sometimes we keep the changes as part of operation because it makes sense, like having a designated produce washing sink," she added.
Of all the regions she plays, "North Carolina is very strict, and they have the most different set of rules in each county, and they change every year."
While Tiffany Janas insists that the B. Original Foods stands are traditional - "I don't have trendy stands," she said - there is one fad the company has embraced in 2016. "Bacon is trendy, people love bacon at fairs. We put it on burgers and we now wrap it on corn dogs, which is very popular. This year we added a double bacon cheese burger, but besides bacon, we don't do trendy."
B. Original Foods will have a new 26-foot "Grab Steak" trailer, and Tiffany Janas worked with the food trailer manufacturer, Hitch-Hiker Manufacturing, in designing the new addition.. She credits Debbie Powers of Powers Greater Midways with guiding her thought process in making a new, state-of-the-art food stand. "She told me that you need to design your food trailer, for the best day you are going to have," She said.
With that mind, every detail of the interior design "was given a lot of thought, we wanted to make sure every step of food preparation was strategically placed, so nobody has to move far to get from one station to another. We have a prep area with specific places for knives, cutting board, bin - they are not all over the place. There's three different sinks. The trailer runs with a minimum of four people, but if it's busy 12 people can work the trailer, although they all are not necessarily inside the trailer at any one time."
She was also particular about the new stand's exterior aesthetics; the marquee is at the top - visible from far away, then pictures of the food at -or just below or above - eye level. "The marquee is what matters in drawing people to the stand, so everybody want it on top of the stand," she said. "But I like having the pictures of the food, the Italian sausage, or funnel cake or whatever it is where people standing in line can see it. The best sellers should be right by the window."
The expertise she brings to both food stand design as well as midway food & beverage management has been long instilled in this third generation amusement worker. Her earliest memory is her grandmother teaching her to make cotton candy. "I would remember to stick my hand in and take the cotton candy out, and to always use gloves. We packed the cotton candy into bags. I can still hear her voice telling me that I need to stop wadding and shoving, that I had to fluff and stuff."
How young was she? She admits that she is unable to pinpoint the exact year. "By age nine or 10, I was already making the cotton candy by myself, this must have been way before that."