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September 29, 2020

County Fairgrounds hosting drive-thru fair food sales

WATSONVILLE—Those longing for the return of the Santa Cruz County Fair and the classic foods that the yearly event offers will soon be able to get a small taste of the annual bash and the delicacies that come with it.

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The Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds over the next two weekends will host a drive-thru fair food sale. The drive-thru will be open Sept. 11-13 and again Sept. 18-20 from 11am to sundown.

“I’d say [until] about 8pm, but we’re not going to turn people away,” said County Fairgrounds CEO and Fair Manager Dave Kegebein. “We’ll keep going until the line goes away.”

Kegebein said the drive-thru will offer corn dogs, funnel cakes, greek food, cinnamon rolls and deep-fried Oreos, among other fair favorites.

The yearly celebration was canceled in June because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Kegebein said the event’s cancellation has been “brutal” on the Fairgrounds, which has also had to nix several other gatherings set for this year.

The cancellation of county fairs across California has sent a depth charge through the community of vendors that depend on them for their livelihoods, says Willie Madaus, owner of Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls, arguably one of the culinary mainstays of the fair.

 “We’re fighting to break even and stay alive,” he said. “We’re just trying to make ends meet in these crazy times.” 

Madaus says the business has been a part of the fair for 42 years.

“Yes, this means a lot to us,” he said, adding that he understands the reasons behind the closures.

“People have to be safe and there are rules, but we’ve got to get things done to stay around,” he said. “We’re in love with the Fairgrounds.”

Connie Vasquez of Watsonville took time to head out to the Fairgrounds Thursday to pick up  a call-in order she placed at Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls. 

“I wanted to support this fair and help keep it alive—it’s important,” she said. “I’m glad to be able to get this order today; we ordered the works.”

Kara Moe, who manages the Sleek Greek, says the business has been to Santa Rosa at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Petaluma at the Marin County Fairgrounds, and to Monterey.

The business sells traditional, chicken and falafel gyros, among other classic Greek fast food. 

“It is fair season, it’s just coming in a different shape and size this year,” she said. “And it’s been an adjustment period for everybody.”

The Fairgrounds over the last two weeks has switched gears to accommodate evacuees fleeing the CZU August Lightning Complex fire. At its peak, the Fairgrounds housed 840 people and roughly 1,200 animals, Kegebein said. 

There are still about 75 people living at the fairgrounds and a few hundred animals too.

Drive-thru events have been one of the few opportunities that fairgrounds across the state have had to recover lost revenue. Still, Kegebein said the Fairgrounds will need more financial support in the near future.

“Of course, we can’t have the fair but we definitely want the community to be thinking about the Fairgrounds and our role in the community,” Kegebein said. “If we’re going to survive this, we’re going to need the community’s support. We’re going to need to show them all the other roles that the Fairgrounds plays.”

Tarmo Hannula and Todd Guild contributed to this report.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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