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Chow time

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | August 22, 2020 1:09 AM

North Idaho State Fair Food Fix in full swing at Kootenai County Fairgrounds

Get your grub on at the North Idaho State Fair Food Fix with classic elephant ears, corn dogs, and Philly cheesesteaks in a drive-thru extravaganza.

General manager of the North Idaho State Fair Alexcia Jordan couldn’t stand to see the 2020 Fair go down without a fight, so when she saw other cities putting on drive-thru events to support their vendors, she hopped on the trend. This year fair lovers can get a little taste of the magic with nine traditional vendors serving up their timeless classics at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds two weekends in a row.

On the menu is Azar’s Deep Fried Haven, Country Snack Shack, Giovanni’s Concessions, Inland Empire Concessions, John Dough, Old Fashion Country Kettle Corn, Philly Express, White’s Concessions, and An Tostal Farms.

“I hope that people come out, enjoy their fair food, and reminisce with us,” Jordan said. “We miss our fair, and we want to give our vendors a small opportunity to make a little money, have fun, and share what they love to do.”

With many community events like the fair canceled this year due to COVID-19 fear, specialty vendors across the nation struggle to make ends meet. The co-owner of Giovanni’s Concessions Tobias Eiter, 45, said the mass shutdowns had taken a significant toll on the business’ income.

“The fair is our livelihood. Without fairs and special events, we have no business,” Eiter said. “We make all our money during these events, and we’ve lost everything this summer.”

After switching from a storefront location 10 years ago, Tobias and wife Pamela started up Giovanni’s Concessions and began traveling throughout the western United States to sell their creations. While they had been looking forward to some significant events in Arizona, New Mexico, and the Coeur d’Alene Fourth of July event, the North Idaho State Fair Food Fix will be their last for the season.

“It’s a little different because this isn’t how we run our business, so this will be quite the learning curve,” Eiter said. “I hope that people remember us, and they are willing to overlook the obstacles of the drive-thru process, and they come out to support us.”

Eiter says their fan favorites are the Italian Sausage Sandwiches, but Jordan noted Giovanni’s deep-fried Philly Cheese Steaks were to-die-for.

“We all need to come together and love each other as brothers and sisters and stop all this nonsense so we can go back to enjoying the fairs, and festivities, and family that the good Lord has provided us,” Eiter said.

Some of the first customers in line Friday evening, Andrew and Jolene Compton from Coeur d’Alene, said the drive-thru process was even better than expected.

“I think this is actually really cool. I hope a lot of community members come out because this is well-planned, spread out, and organized,” Jolene Compton said. “I think this is a great opportunity to allow all the vendors to make some money and recoup anything they’ve lost throughout the year.”

The two try to come to the fair every year, but what’s on the menu tonight? Gyros, corn dogs, and frozen lemonade.

“It’s very important to have a community event like this,” Andrew Compton said. “Everyone needs an excuse to get out of the house and do something, why not this.”

Steven Kunz, 31, the general manager of Old Fashion Country Kettle Corn, couldn’t agree more.

“A lot of people are losing hope, getting scared and even depressed right now,” Kunz said. “Big events like this bring a lot of energy and happiness. It’s just something to get people’s minds off what’s going on and onto something better.”

Serving up buttery, caramelly goodness for about a decade now, Kunz said the North Idaho State Fair is a big part of its business.

“This fair being only five days raises over half of the money the Spokane fair does in 10 days,” Kunz said. “These are our busiest shows of the year if we didn’t have this weekend and next, it would definitely hurt our business.”

Having done only three shows the entire year, Old Fashion Country Kettle Corn was sincerely missing going out to community events.

“We’ve been itching to go since we got shut down in March,” Kunz said. “We worked with the government’s assistance and resorted to an online presence like our website and Facebook page to get income.”

Nothing, however, compares to the fun of a good old-fashioned fair, Kunz admitted.

“I really missed this, I’m so happy to smell some fair food,” Kunz said. “The energy from the people when everyone is excited is something else, how could I not be happy?”

He wasn’t the only one excited, as Kimberly Nielsen and her two granddaughters, Saige and Skylar, pulled in line to get their annual elephant ears. A tradition before Skylar was born and Saige was 2 years old, the dynamic trio could barely contain their excitement.

“We usually come and get our face painted, but this year we are so excited to be here finally,” Saige, now 12, said. “We were looking forward to this the whole summer, and when it got canceled, we were like, are you kidding?”

Usually celebrating with face paint, elephant ears, and matching flannel shirts, Grandma Kimberly said she couldn’t wait to continue the legacy of their favorite summer memory.

“It’s our thing, us three always go, so when I heard about this, I said we are getting our elephant ears,” she said. “We come because typically we see people we haven’t seen all summer long. It’s always a good time.”

Not being able to host the fair this year was heartbreaking to the North Idaho State Fair board and the community, but the smell of fair in the air and happy masked faces had Jordan hopeful.

“We haven’t had enough of these community events,” Jordan said. “I think it has caused people to feel unfulfilled, and hopefully, something like this can provide that fulfillment that’s gotten lost.”

One more surprise, the North Idaho State Fair had up their sleeve, the announcement of a 10-day celebration in 2021.

“It’s official. We are moving the fair from a five-day fair to a 10-day fair in 2021,” Jordan said. “We are going to open on a Friday, so we’ll get two weekends out of the deal and run some cool promotions and entertainment for everyone.”

Until then, the Fair Food Fix drive-thru will be open for the next two weeks, Fridays 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

There is no charge for entry, and no outdoor seating availability as customers must remain in their cars.

Info: https://www.nisfair.fun/p/about/fair-food-fix

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White's Concessions hands out Jolene Compton's order at the drive-thru Fair Food Fix event at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds Friday evening. (MADISON HARDY/Press)

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Christine White, owner of White's Concessions, serves up her fan-favorite elephant ears at the North Idaho State Fair Food Fix Friday evening. (MADISON HARDY/Press)

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Alexander James White, son of the owner of White's Concessions, fries up some curly fries at the North Idaho State Fair Food Fix Friday evening. (MADISON HARDY/Press)

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Steven Kunz of Old Fashion County Kettle Corn passes out a refreshing huckleberry lemonade at the North Idaho State Food Fair Fix event Friday evening. (MADISON HARDY/Press)

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Old Fashion County Kettle Corn wipes up their famous carmel corn at the North Idaho State Food Fair Fix event Friday evening. (MADISON HARDY/Press)