Fair food stands meet demand for new items

Bill Griffin serves up an elephant ear at his Hancock County Fair food truck. Griffin, 80, of Bloomville, has been in the fair food business for 33 years, and his family has three trucks at the fair. One of their popular items is fried Oreos. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

Bill Griffin serves up an elephant ear at his Hancock County Fair food truck. Griffin, 80, of Bloomville, has been in the fair food business for 33 years, and his family has three trucks at the fair. One of their popular items is fried Oreos. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

By MAX FILBY
STAFF WRITER

If it’s fried or topped with powdered sugar, chances are Bill Griffin has made and sold it.

Griffin, 80, of Bloomville, has been in the fair food business for 33 years.

Griffin and his family maintain four food trucks, three of which are at the Hancock County Fair this week. They’re selling everything from fried Oreos to funnel cakes, elephant ears and apple dumplings.

Dunking Oreos in funnel cake batter may look easy, but there’s a lot of work that goes into preparing for a day at the fair, Griffin said. Griffin and his family are at the fairgrounds to start their fryers and take stock of their ingredients hours before any visitors arrive.

“To someone just looking through the window, it may look easy, but it’s not,” he said. “It really is a lot of hard work.”

While Griffin and his family serve visitors at 22 Ohio fairs and festivals, they said the Hancock County Fair has always been their favorite. It’s one of the fairs that makes them feel at home, where they enjoy talking to some of the same people year after year.

“You know, I may not see these people more than once a year, but they’re all so friendly and they always remember us,” Griffin said. “They’re like family.”

Family is a core part of Griffin’s business. His grandson, Tate Griffin, and Tate’s wife, Melissa, are both working one of Griffin’s trucks at the fair this week. Tate started working for his grandfather when he was 9 years old and will eventually take over the family business.

“I was 9 and I’ve just always liked it,” Tate said. “It’s just worked out.”

Besides the Griffin family’s sugary concoctions, everything from donut burgers to fried vegetables to ribeye steaks can be found at the fair, many of them on a stick.

Walter Nickerson, 62, of Defiance, sells racks of ribs, and pork chops on a stick, right off a grill. Nickerson said he started serving pork chops on a stick three years ago after a customer gave him the idea.

“We sell quite a few,” Nickerson said. “A stick is what works. You can just pick it up and walk around and eat it.”

This is Nickerson’s first year at the Hancock County Fair, but he’s worked at other fairs in Montpelier and Hicksville.

Although demand for Nickerson’s pork chops on a stick is still second to his ribs smothered in a secret family sauce, the demand for the item has played an important part in the evolution of the business he’s been running for nearly 22 years, he said.

Similarly, the Griffin family has also responded to a demand for new fried foods.

One was the deep-fried Oreo, which they added to the menu about four or five years ago because of public demand.

“It isn’t just a gimmick, people really like them,” Melissa Griffin said. “If you don’t sell it, they’ll go find it somewhere else.”

The cookies are dipped into the same batter the family uses to make funnel cakes, then dropped in a fryer before being placed in a small basket with some powdered sugar sprinkled on top. The family sells a lot of Belgian waffles, funnel cakes and elephant ears, but the fried cookies have quickly become a fair favorite, they said.

Although their products may not be the healthiest cuisine around, they’re a treat that Tate said people shouldn’t pass up at a county fair.

“I mean, they’re OK as long as you’re only having them once a year, right?” he joked.

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