Inside the 2016 MN State Fair: Choosing the New Foods

Dennis Larson makes the calls every year on the Fair’s food line-up

Dennis Larson might have the most enviable (and sometimes fraught) job in Minnesota. As license and administration manager at the State Fair, he chooses which food vendors can ply their trade each year.

Larson changes the lives of newly invited vendors with a simple phone call—after some of whom have tried for many years to obtain a slot. “That’s the fun part of the job,” he says. “I wish I could do it a lot more, because there are a lot of worthy people.”

This year, Larson made calls to only two new vendors: OOf-da Tacos and Tot Boss. Getting this golden ticket is more complicated than whether or not a food product is tasty. Much of the decision is based on whether or not the vendor will be able to fit and work in a particular location.

“It has more to do with the stars being aligned,” he says. “The perception out there is that it’s a chronological waiting list, but not necessarily. It has more to do with having the right product at the right time.”

A typical vendor spends four to five years on the waitlist, some vendors wait much longer (and some never make it). OOf-da Tacos finally made it to the Fair 33 years after originally applying.

“I think it’s just really something else,” says Greg Parenteau, owner of OOff-da Tacos. “I dreamt of this, but I didn’t think it would actually happen.”

When Dan Docken, owner of Tot Boss, got a phone call from Larson, he initially thought that it was going to bring bad news. When Larson told him that Tot Boss had made it to the Fair, he had a quick and excited response.

“I said, Heck yes.”

Read more of our “Inside the 2016 MN State Fair” series:
Sounds of Summer: Nate Dungan selects the Fair’s free-music soundtrack
Wild, Wild Life: Mark Goodrich oversees the four-legged fairgoers
Lord of the Rides: Jim Sinclair chooses our favorite thrills, spills, and rides
We Love a Parade: Theresa Weinfurtner manages Fair’s talent contest, parade