From sweethearts to pastry lovers to a mother-daughter team, north metro entrepreneurs put in long hours to pursue passions at the State Fair.
The State Fair begins Thursday, and the Twin Cities north metro will be well represented during the 12-day run through Labor Day. Here’s a look at some of the people and products you might encounter from your neck of the woods.
Love at first site
Stand: Pitchfork Sausage
Location: Corner of Dan Patch Avenue and Ligette Street
Melissa and Brendan Szala met as teenagers working at the Butcher Boys stand at the State Fair. Fourteen years later, the Lino Lakes couple is returning to the fair to open a similar meat-lover’s booth called Pitchfork Sausage. They even had the same booth refurbished.
“We’re literally back where we started,” doing business with the same people from way back then, Melissa said. “It feels a little surreal, like I’m 15 again.”
Pitchfork Sausage, which has been in the making for five years, offers Polish, Italian, and gluten-free Italian sausage varieties on a specially designed pitchfork, along with jalapeno-infused hot dogs.
“I have always wanted to be in business on my own, but with today’s economy, doing it solo is nearly impossible,” Melissa said.
That’s why they jumped at the chance to open a booth. “It’s a special thing to us,” she said.
The ‘happy business’
Stand: Holly’s Hobby
Location: Bazaar and Heritage Square
Holly Adler of Andover, who designs Christmas tree ornaments that get reproduced for retail sale around the world, got her start at the State Fair in 1976. A fair representative had scouted her wares at a local craft show.
That first year, Adler made 2,000 ornaments for the fair. She never imagined that the gig would lead to designing ornaments and a special line of nutcrackers, among other holiday items, for Disney, Warner Bros. and SeaWorld.
Adler produces about 500 ornament designs each year. It’s not an easy process, starting with a blank sheet of paper and “coming up with things that go on people’s Christmas trees next year,” she said.
Through the years, she and her husband, Jeff, have maintained two Holly’s Hobby booths at the fair.
Many customers come back each year to pick out ornaments, often waiting in line to get them personalized, she said. “A lot of customers know who wrote on their ornament 10 years ago and they ask for the same people to personalize them.”
It’s a good feeling, Adler said, adding, “We’re in the happy business.”
A Lesson about local foods
Stand: Urban Graze/Minnesota Goodness/Savory Spring Farms
Location: EcoExperience building
Time: Sat. Aug. 31, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Liz Talley of Brooklyn Park will be at the fair on Aug. 31, touting the virtues of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), in which members pay a fee and get a share of the harvest. She operates a company called Urban Graze, which produces handmade cereals, and is a liaison to the CSA program of an Amish farm community in southwestern Wisconsin, Savory Springs Farm.
When one joins a CSA, “you’re also sharing in the risk of farming. It makes you a true partner,” Talley said.
She’ll be at the Healthy Local Food Exhibit in the Eco Experience building on Aug. 31 to talk about the subject.
Free for kids of all ages
Stand: Paper Dolls
Location: Minnesota Territorial Pioneers Cabin
Gene Ewer, 85, started crafting paper art creations after his young granddaughter begged him to make her something.
That was in 1985. Since then, the Andover resident has made thousands of pieces, including butterflies, alligators, mice, turtles and more than 200 politicians.
His work involves the ancient art of paper cutting. Seeing no books at the library about the art, Ewer said, he put together a how-to manual that he sells at the fair.
He hands out his paper crafts, which can take a couple of minutes or a couple of hours to cut out, to children “ages 1 to 95” for free. “I’m known [for the paper art] wherever I go,” said Ewer, who has led workshops at local schools and churches.
Location: Baldwin Park
Fairdos, a salon that operates exclusively at the State Fair, has been busy since Day One.
The salon creates “fairdos,” or funky, one-of-a-kind updos that make a bold fashion statement, with bright colors, polka dots, stripes, princess accessories and lots of glitter.
Salon owner Lorri Weisen, a Fridley resident, said, “We like to call them imperfect perfection.”
Everything washes out, “but some kids like to keep their fairdos for a couple of days,” she said.
Of course, the glitter tends to collect in every nook and cranny. In fact, after teardown, a glitter outline reveals where the booth used to be, she said.
Since its start 11 years ago, Fairdos has grown from three to seven stations, with 30 stylists. It has a goal of 4,000 fairdos each year, she said.
This year, Fairdos has a new mobile app that helps people locate the booth, which resembles a Hollywood dressing room, and to interact with the salon on social media, she said.
For Weisen, the salon brings back fond childhood memories of the fair, which was “like a baby sitter to me.”
A mother-daughter venture
Stand: Ole’s Cannoli
Location: Heritage Square
During a trip to Boston one year, Marta Lindsey and her mom, Pam Olson, fell in love with cannolis, the famous Italian pastry.
They said to themselves, “This needs to be at the State Fair. We need to bring good cannoli to Minnesota,” Lindsey said.
That was the inspiration for their booth, Ole’s Cannoli, which is in its second year at the fair.
Traditional cannoli is filled with ricotta cheese and is topped by pistachios or chocolate chips. “We thought about how to make it more Minnesotan,” Lindsey said.
So this year, they’re launching candy bacon cannoli, which they claim is the only cannoli of its kind in the world.
Candy bacon is bacon that’s been caramelized with brown sugar. For people who love bacon, “Candy bacon is beyond,” Lindsey said.
Lindsey, who lives in San Francisco, and Olson, a Roseville resident, both have other day jobs. “This is how we spend our vacation,” said Lindsey, whose first job was at the State Fair when she was 15.
Last year was rough, as Lindsey was six months pregnant. After working in the brutal heat, “My legs were so swollen I couldn’t walk a day after the fair ended,” she said.
Still, for Lindsey and Olson, the booth is a dream come true. After staring at a computer all day, it’s a welcome change of pace. “You’re talking to people all day and making cannoli is fun,” she said.
Lawn ornaments on a stick
Stand: Rock Gardens
Location: East side of Nelson Street between Judson and Carnes avenues
Laurie and Brian Soderman started Rock Gardens, a landscaping business, in an unlikely place: a former junkyard in Lino Lakes.
Soderman wasn’t sold on the idea right away: “When Brian first brought me here, I thought he was insane,” she said.
That was 24 years ago. Since then, Rock Gardens, which the couple runs out of their garage, has grown into a thriving business. A decade ago, the Sodermans opened up shop at the State Fair.
Through the years, they’ve enhanced the stand with a pergola, a pond, a retaining wall and a paver patio, which makes it easy to spot near the Department of Natural Resources site.
Rock Gardens sells gifts, including lawn ornaments on a stick, in keeping with the State Fair motif. “It’s actually a stake that goes into the ground,” she said.
This year, the place is offering a deal on garden fairies. Fairy gardens, which involve creating miniature scenes, akin to a model railroad, are popular right now, she said.
The Sodermans, along with their three sons, put in long days during the fair, but they enjoy the excitement of it all. The one downside is that their stand is right by Sweet Martha’s Cookies, so they’re tempted by the smell of cookies all day long, she joked.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.