FALCON HEIGHTS (AP) -- When Jacqueline Davis received a last-minute phone call 12 years ago granting her a spot in the State Fair Food Building to sell cheese-filled Italian loaves, she scraped together $1,000 to build a booth. She fine-tuned recipes. She prayed that sales would rise as quickly as her bread.
"It happened so quickly -- somebody decided not to come to the Food Building and they told me, 'If you can do it, it's yours,"' recalled Davis, 54, a reservation agent for America West Airlines with catering experience. "We rented equipment because we didn't know how it would end up."
For Davis and more than a dozen other vendors who had been Food Building staples, the end came last fall with the $1 million remodeling of the often hot and stuffy 30,000-square-foot building. New building codes and space limitations meant cutting the number of booths by seven, to 32. Meeting new codes would cost returning vendors as much as $100,000 in new equipment. And all vendors had to apply for readmission -- which, unlike previous years, no longer seemed like standard procedure.
For some veteran vendors, the announcement of Food Building changes hit their gut harder than a third helping of cheese curds. But Davis, who could not afford the estimated $50,000 to $80,000 for new equipment, said she is relieved that the Food Building has maintained at least some of its "mom and pop" feel.
Yes, Leeann Chin's has a booth. But so does O'Gara's Bar and Grill, a first-time Food Building participant that brings to the fair the same salt-water potatoes and deep-fried Reuben sandwiches sold just a couple miles down the street on N. Snelling Avenue.
"The family-owned booths are the heart of the State Fair and Food Building," said Jim Sinclair, the fair's assistant manager. "O'Gara's is typical of what gives the fair its pulse."
So is new Food Building vendor Dennis Felling, whose pace would keep any cardiologist busy. Felling owns the new Engine House 19, home of the meatball on a stick.
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