The Fletcher's corn dog stand closest to Big Tex is the State Fair's busiest corn dog stand, and it's not just lowbrow eaters who line up to trade nine coupons for the venerated snack: Randall Copeland, chef-owner of Restaurant Ava, recently joined the throngs. But unlike most corn dog connoisseurs, Copeland was invited to work the deep-fryer in stand manager Gregory True's sweltering hot kitchen.
"I have cooked at some wonderful events this past year and really enjoy getting out to meet everyone," Copeland later wrote on his Facebook page. "But of all the places I cooked, this is by far the most fun I ever had."
Copeland's promising career in carnival culinary arts seems to have come to a momentary stand-still, as he tends to business back at his successful farm-to-table restaurant, but True - a 17-year veteran of Fletcher's - isn't going anywhere until the Fair's over. He recently answered a few pressing corn dog questions for City of Ate.
CoA: Is it corn dog or corny dog?
Gregory True: For my money it's corn dog, but they both are tasty.
CoA: Do you have any corn dog stories?
Gregory True: The very first celebrity I ever had was Julia Child. I knew she was coming and I studied all the ingredients and tried to figure out what she might ask. She never had a corn dog before. I met her at the gate, and the only thing she was interested in was how much money I made. She seemed to enjoy her first corn dog. I get my share of celebrities through here. Oprah stopped in last year.
CoA: We won't ask about you and Oprah, but we bet you do get some strange people here at times.
Gregory True: Well, I had a guy come in once at 8 o'clock in the morning one time and said it was too early for a corn dog and a Coors Light. So he ordered a corn dog and a Miller Light. Lot of different things happen.
CoA: How many people does it take to run a proper Fletcher's stand?
Gregory True: I have about 50 people helping me this year at this one stand. Total, across the fairgrounds, we employ roughly 100 workers. About 70 percent of those are retained from previous years. I have had people work the stand for years and now their children are working here.
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CoA: How many of these things do you sell a day?
Gregory True: It varies from day to day, but last weekend I sold about 30,000 at this stand alone. Last year, I sold over 350,000 in my stand. When I first started, they were making $700,000.00 in my location. Last year I topped $1.2 million, and I expect to clear $1.8 million this year, since the weather's been so good.
CoA: Not bad for one of our prized fried traditions at the State Fair. OK, last question, how much do you make?
Gregory True: [laughs] I really do this because I enjoy the people. I like working with everyone here and it makes the day go by faster when we have a bit of fun. I had an older woman stop by once saying she has had a corn dog each year for 40 years. She asked me how old she looked and I said 22. It really is about the people, though. I love corn dogs.