A mountain of cumulus clouds piled up behind the Minnesota State Fair at twilight on Opening Day, and I saw a young fellow with a tripod and a camera taking care to capture the glory. We got to talking, and it turned out he worked at the family stand, the venerable Juanita’s Fajitas, and had one of those born-and-raised-at-the-fair stories.
OK, not born. But raised there?
“Pretty much. I have been pouring pop since I was 6, and then moved to the register, and I’ve been cooking for two years. Next stop, I’ll be managing.
So it’s like stopping what you normally do and shazam! you’re a restaurateur for two weeks.
“It’s five weeks. Two weeks before, two weeks of the fair, one week after. A lot of people think the fair just magically pops up and it’s here and then it’s gone. But there’s so much behind the scenes, like putting up the booth — it’s like a figuring out a puzzle that’s been in storage for a year.”
Like assembling Ikea furniture without the instructions, perhaps. Worst part?
“Um … the family gets … energetic, and we have let’s call them happy moments.”
Say no more. Working in close quarters on a hot day with cooking oil? Gandhi would snap. Best part?
“When we’ve turned into a well-oiled machine and we can handle everything. It’s never perfect, but it’s amazing to see how fast and how quick our family can work.”
Have to ask: Is Juanita your mom? “My dad’s name is Dan, and he figured Dan’s Fajitas wouldn’t sell, so ... . But Juanita is modeled after my mom.”
Any recollections as a fair brat?
“Hey, can I get this, I want this cheap little whatever, I want the candy! Going on rides and the Giant Slide. That was the fair. A whole bunch of fun. When I began working, it became hell, and realized wow, the fair isn’t the fair, it’s a job.
“But then I realized that my family owns a booth at the Minnesota State Fair, and of all the thousands who come here, our four individuals, we’re part of what makes the fair happen.”
But that’s just six weeks. What do you want to do with the rest of your life? Besides photography, that is.
“I’ve been the onsite carpenter at the fair, something breaks or needs to be built, you don’t have three days and a trip to Menards, you have half an hour tops.
“I realized that if I can build and fix things with a hammer and crowbar and the materials on site, then carpentry and cabinet making should be a piece of cake.
If Juanita’s Fajitas changes its name in a decade or two to Dan’s Cake ’n’ Cabinets, you’ll know why.