Becoming a food vendor at the State Fair of Texas takes more than experience, tenacity and drive.
It’s easy to apply, but vendors from previous years are given the right of first refusal, which means that slots rarely open up.
Once you’re in, it can be quite the golden ticket.
Food booths at the fair can earn as much as $1 million in the one month they’re open every year, and vendor licenses at the fair are often passed down through generations.
The fair is canceled this year, but a fair-food drive-through will be serving corny dogs, turkey legs and fried Oreos.
There were no Black food vendors for the first 78 years of the fair until Huey Nash opened Little Bob’s there in 1964.
This WFAA story from 1974, below, says it took Nash five years and pressure from the Black Chamber of Commerce to get his license. Nash saved up $800 to open his first restaurant, which was famous for its smoked bologna sandwich, on South Lamar. The restaurant later moved to Big T Plaza in Oak Cliff but closed after Nash died in 2013.
Nash was still the only Black concessionaire at the fair 46 years ago. Smokey John’s BBQ was second, opening in the early ’80s, followed by Ruth’s Tamales. Now, about half of the food booths are Black-owned.
Fair vendors could make up to $50,000 a year in 1974, according to the story. That translates to about $250,000 in 2020 dollars. The owner of a tacos and nachos stand in the 1974 story below says he’d made $9,000 the previous year, about $46,000 in today’s money.