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COVID-19 RESOURCES & NEWS
Food Vendors & Carnival Operators find Creative Solutions during Tough Times

PENN VALLEY SHOWS TURNS TO FOOD OPERATION DURING TIME OF NEED
Without its normal route of fairs and festivals, Pennsylvania based Penn Valley Shows opened its food concessions at its winter quarters to help bring in some extra income during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Penn Valley Shows has always been a family operation. Christina Benner, her husband, and her three grown children work together to ensure the show's success. While day to day operations are a bit different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Benner's family is still working hard to provide some normalcy and fun to their community in Middleburg, PA.

After seeing that a few other shows began to sell food during the industry shut-down, Benner and her family decided to give it a try. “We live in a small town with not a lot of food options,” says Benner. “A lot of our restaurants aren't even open for takeout food; I can think of Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts but that's about it.” When Penn Valley Shows began offering traditional carnival food to their community, it really took off. Benner and her daughter have their funnel cake stand and fry stand open side by side on their property Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12pm-7pm. When they first started selling food in early April, a limited menu was available with carnival staples such as funnel cakes, ice cream, fried oreos, chicken tenders, fries, fried pickles, and blooming onions. “The community response was so great and people started asking us for more items, so we expanded our menu,” says Benner.  

Now, customers who visit the Penn Valley Shows food stands can enjoy a full menu including tons of funnel cake toppings, frozen and deep fried cheesecake, root beer floats, corn dogs, and fried veggies just to name a few. The Benner family's delicious food has resulted in repeat customers and an outpouring of support from their rural community. “We have had people come by every day we're open telling us ‘we want you to survive,' I think people realize that if we're not able to make some money during the shut-down there's a possibility there won't be rides and family events in the area,” says Benner.

In an effort to continue bringing family fun to their community, Penn Valley Shows is running a “name the mascot” contest on April 25th and 26th. Customers who come to purchase food that weekend can take a socially-distanced picture with the Penn Valley Shows bear and post it on social media with their name suggestion. Benner came up with the idea after hearing from parents in the community that their children are desperate for safe activities outside of the home. “We live in such a rural area with not a lot to do even before the shut-down so I thought this could be something fun for the kids,” says Benner.

It is important to Penn Valley Shows that their food operation is safe for both the employees and the customers. Patrons order food at a ticket booth placed in front of both food trailers, then they bring a receipt to a table situated in between the two trailers. When the food is ready, customers can pick it up at the table instead of coming up to the food trailer window. Customers can also choose to remain in their cars and text in their food order which is delivered safely to the vehicle once it's ready. Now aware of how successful the food sales operation is, Benner reached out to some of their May festival committees who have had to cancel their events. Penn Valley Shows suggested brining their food trailers to the festival location to sell food during their original dates in order to help the festivals and the show recoup some of the financial losses from the canceled events. “A couple of our events in Williamsport and Mountville have been very receptive. This will be good for the festival, the show, and the community,” says Benner. “We know people are craving normalcy and are seeing the outpouring of support, it gave us the idea to try something a little different.”



Cardinali Foods




For Tony Cardinali, a food operator based out of Havasu City, AZ, the industry shut-own due to the COVID-19 pandemic happened at one of the most inconvenient times: right after he completed set-up at a fair in Blythe, CA. Sometime around March 13th, Cardinali had just finished putting about 500 pounds of meat in his smoker and on his grill to prepare for opening when fair staff came around at 10:05 am to inform vendors that the fair would be closed immediately. “That was definitely our wake up call,” says Cardinali.

Before he could even finish his drive home, Cardinali was notified from two more fairs that they had canceled. “Before any of this happened, I had the idea to build a food truck to use in the off season so this seemed like a good opportunity to finish that up,” says Cardinali. In preparation for the fair season, Cardinali had about 2,000 pounds of meat stocked in his freezer. He and his wife began their food truck operation by just selling turkey legs in their community one Saturday. The couple advertised on Facebook and did fairly well. Since then, Cardinali has set up his food truck about 6 different times, every 3 or 4 days, with some different food items each time. Featuring loaded baked potatoes with varied toppings one week and things like racks of ribs and whole tri-tip sirloins another, Cardinali is getting creative and offering foods customers can't find at local restaurants. “We live in a small town and a lot of the restaurants around here just aren't built for take out logistically or just aren't open; people crave variety,” says Cardinali.

Like others in the industry, the Cardinali family is hoping that some fairs, especially those scheduled later in the Summer, will be able to operate. “We won't know the public's reaction to fairs being reopened until that first, big fair comes around.” Cardinali lives near lakes and marinas in Arizona that border California and reports that they're filled to capacity on the weekends with people from Arizona and California; “clearly, people are anxious to get out and do something.” Until more information is available and everything is re-opened, Cardinali encourages other food vendors to try selling food in their communities. When he applied for permits with the Mohave County Health Department, he found that county officials were extremely receptive and encouraging. “We know how to maintain a safe and clean operation. As food vendors we're inspected sometimes 4 and 5 times a month when we're on the road,” says Cardinali.

Although they decided to sell food with just the new truck at first, Cardinali and his wife plan to follow up on their success by pulling out many of their food trailers and setting up shop around town. “We have a lot of different stands: pizza, bbq, and ice cream. Our next step is to pull those out to have an even larger variety of foods. For now, Cardinali and his wife are the only employees working in the truck but if their success continues, they hope to hire a few people to help in the other food stands as they know lots of local people are out of work currently. After applying several times for small business loans and unfortunately, being rejected, Cardinali realized he can only rely on himself to keep his business afloat during these difficult times.

As they eventually expand their operation, the Cardinalis are heavily advertising on Facebook on the Cardinali Foods Havasu and Tony Cardinali pages. This past week, Cardinali had brochures and hand-outs printed advertising their food offerings and are planning to pass them out at local business that are still open such as car dealerships. “We are literally going door to door. In times like these, you've gotta do what you gotta do,” says Cardinali.


Pope's Concessions and Rides



James Roy Pope, a third generation showman, is no stranger to adapting to and overcoming adversity in the outdoor amusement business. After building up a business with 17 rides and about 30 food trailers from the humble beginnings of his grandfather's popcorn stand, Pope was heading into the 2020 season with high hopes. “Just like every other year, we were working on projects in our winter-quarters, gathering up our cash and spending it to make our company better,” says Pope. For may showmen, the COVID-19 pandemic couldn't have happened at a worse time. “We were spending through the winter and ready to start making some money again,” says Pope.

Normally, Pope spends some time in Gibsonton, Florida during the Winter but decided to cut it short and head home once he heard some rumbles about the pandemic. Before any news about SBA loans or other government relief programs were announced, Pope headed to his local bank and re-financed one of his commercial buildings in order to get the cash he needed to keep up with bills and continue to pay his employees. “This is a family business; my wife, our two kids and my 78 year old mother work to keep our business going but I also have employees,” Pope kept three employees on through the winter to help with projects and he made it clear to those men that he would continue to take care of them even through this unprecedented hardship. Although he received some much-needed relief from the bank, Pope knew he had to find way to keep his cash flow up.

After speaking with his friend and fellow showman, Freddy Miller, Pope decided to give selling food a try. Selling carnival food favorites like corn dogs, polish sausage, burgers, funnel cake, fried candy bars, and Pope's classic “fiddlestick” ice cream bars, Pope and his family have created a nice route out 15-20 miles outside of their house in each direction, setting up in towns where they would normally have fairs. Initially, Pope received some pushback from local restaurants on social media. Generally, they did not consider Pope's Concessions “local” and felt he was infringing on their business. They also had a hard time getting health department permits; Pope was told he could not get an inspection because it was not “an authorized event.” Eventually, Pope worked with his regular health inspector to get a permanent inspection for the state of Tennessee.



Despite these hardships, Pope's Concessions is welcomed with open arms in the communities they visit. “I've been doing this my whole life and these are the greatest crowds I've ever seen. People are so friendly and offer us words of encouragement,” says Pope. They're even acquired some “groupies;” people will follow the trailer from town to town and eat Pope's food each week. Currently, Pope is taking his grill trailer, now outfitted with a funnel cake fryer, and his supply trailer with cotton candy and candy apple supplies to each town in his route for about 3-4 days. “We aren't trying to be greedy, we want to make to make enough to stay afloat, pay our bills, and pay our employees,” says Pope.

After attaining surprising success with his food sales during the shut-down, Pope has been sure to give back to the community. A Verizon store next to one of his spots was hosting a fundraiser for a family whose son passed away. Moved by their compassion, Pope and his family donated all their tips from the spot to the fundraiser. “We want to give back and help others how we can in this time. I keep saying we're not poor, we're just cash poor,” says Pope. In another act of kindness, Pope was reunited with a woman who represents her church at some of the fairs he normally plays. “This woman feeds all the carnival employees and treats everyone with such kindness. She helps to run a food pantry for the less fortunate; we helped her fry 400 corn dogs in our trailer,” says Pope.

Currently, all of Pope's events have cancelled through June. He says fair and festival committees have made these decisions with a heavy heart; “you can hear the pain in their voices. They don't want to give me that news,” he says. As of April 27th, Tennessee has reopened their restaurants, Pope mentions that he's not sure how this will affect his current business but he has faith they'll still have success. Customers and friends can find Pope's route on the Pope's Concessions and Rides Facebook page.
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