Family living a State Fair dream

  • Article by: JULIE PFITZINGER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 26, 2012 - 7:05 AM

After years of planning, a mother-daughter duo are thrilled to have a food stand at the fairgrounds.

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Pam Olson, left, and daughter Marta Lindsey outside their new State Fair booth, Ole's Cannoli, in Heritage Square.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Here's an interesting bit of foreshadowing. For the first few weeks of her life, Marta Lindsey was a very fussy baby and not easily soothed. That is until her mom, Pam Olson, brought her to the Minnesota State Fair for the first time.

"I still call that the first happy day of Marta's life," said Olson. "She was only about a month old, and she was so happy just looking around. People kept telling me that she was the sweetest baby they had ever seen."

From the beginning, Lindsey, like her mom, has been a self-proclaimed "dyed-in-the-wool" fair person who has rarely missed a year and worked at the fair as a teenager. This year, the pair -- Olson from Shoreview and Lindsey now from San Francisco -- are embarking on the ultimate State Fair adventure as they open Ole's Cannoli, their new food stand in Heritage Square.

When Lindsey was living in Boston several years ago, she and Olson visited a popular spot called Mike's Pastry, where both fell in love with what Lindsey calls "real-deal cannolis." They immediately thought these sweet filled pastry shells, an Italian dessert, might be just what the Minnesota State Fair needed.

"We had been talking about the idea of a State Fair business for such a long time that I told my mom we either had to do it or stop talking about it," said Lindsey. "And so, for the next two years, we launched ourselves into figuring out the nuts and bolts of this idea and putting together our application."

Strategy and plans

Olson and Lindsey, who used to talk or text even before their plans for the fair, seriously ramped up the communication in May when they learned that Ole's Cannoli was on its way to becoming a reality.

"We have worked some small fairs in the San Francisco area before, but we've definitely made some tweaks since this is a much bigger operation," said Olson, who was laid off from a job in the software industry earlier this year and has put in hundreds of hours over the summer transforming the booth and sewing traditional Swedish costumes for herself, her daughter and their employees.

"Getting the booth ready was a one-woman show on this end, but we absolutely couldn't be doing this whole thing without each other," Olson said.

Lindsey, who works in the communications field, was responsible for research on everything from employment tax law to pistachio prices, resulting in "about a million spreadsheets," she said.

Cannoli with sprinkles

The premise behind Ole's Cannoli is fairly simple, Olson said. She calls their filling a taste sensation similar to "a combination of tiramisu and cheesecake." Customers will have a choice between traditional and chocolate-covered cannoli, with optional toppings of either pistachios, mini chocolate chips or rainbow sprinkles, all topped with a dusting of powdered sugar. The traditional version is $4, the chocolate variety is $5. Of course, there will be coffee -- Swedish style -- for $2 a cup.

Prior to the start of the fair, both admitted to plenty of sleepless nights, thinking through the details of everything from the devices they're using to fill cannolis to managing lines of customers in the hot sun.

In Lindsey's case, there is one more reason her nights have been sleepless. She and husband Drew (who arrived here with Lindsey last week) are expecting their first child in about four months. However, in true mom fashion, Olson has already covered some important bases -- she made two dresses for Lindsey to adjust for a size change during the fair and found a special chair for her daughter to sit in when she's tired. (There's a cot behind the stand, too, although Olson said Lindsey might not be the only one putting that to use.)

Both anticipate long, busy days and are prepared for the challenges that 12 days together selling cannolis might bring.

"We're giving each other a 'Get out of jail free' card for those moments when we get a little crabby," said Olson.

Above all, mother and daughter are thrilled to have this opportunity to make their mark on a place both have been devoted to their entire lives -- Olson is already eager to officially introduce her new grandchild to the State Fair next year.

"You would never do this if you didn't love the fair, and there's no more perfect person for me to do this with than my mom," said Lindsey.

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.

  • OLE'S CANNOLI

    Ole's Cannoli is located in the southeast quadrant of Heritage Square.

    The fair is open through Labor Day.

    For more information, visit mnstatefair.org.

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