Leader photo/JANELLE COLLINS Larry Hurt has owned and operated this hot dog stand for 18 years. He recently updated the look of his stand, which he says takes him about an hour to set up, as well as tear down.

Riverfest vendors offer variety, experience

Published 5:27pm Sunday, August 5, 2012

For Niles residents, Riverfest means sweet and savory treats like elephant ears and home-style, hickory-smoked barbecue.

Faithful vendors participate each summer in Riverfest as well as various venues across the Michiana area.

For some, like Larry Hurt, it’s full time. Hurt has been in the vending business for 21 years, and has been participating in Riverfest as a hotdog vendor for 18 years. But he doesn’t just open up shop in Niles.

“I go to quite a few, this is a full time job,” said Hurt about the 25 fairs he participates in each summer. S

Shawna Young, who helps run a truck that sells jumbo fried cheese, also participates in about 20 fairs a summer, but she says it’s “a seasonal job, not full-time. We try to do as many as we can.”

Mark Bennett is inaugurating his stand, Skinny’s, in its first Riverfest. He began vending full time last year.

“I’ve always wanted to. The thing is with retail, the hours just didn’t let me,” he said of quitting his 33-year position at Martin’s to finally become a vendor.

Vendors do their best to bring genuine, homemade treats to every fair they work. They want people to know that their food is not frozen and reheated. Day emphasized that “our barbecue is real hickory smoke, we do it ourselves … ours is authentic.”

It’s their own recipe and he prides himself in that fact, much like Young, whose family runs and operates their truck and created the recipe for their jumbo fried cheese.

“I know a lot of people don’t understand that we have jumbo fried cheese … we hand dip it in homemade batter and deep fry it and it’s really good,” Young said.

For the vendors, the best part of the job is the people. The opportunity to see new, and familiar, faces every year balances out the sometimes tedious task of setting up, taking the stands down, and long hours in the sun.

Marvin Day, who has been running Southern Style Barbeque for 10 years, said the compliments are an upside to his job.

“Just the enjoyment of people coming up to you,” he said. “We have a lot of repeat customers. At this particular venue, we’ve been coming for about eight to 10 years. A lot of the same people will come back and tell us how good our food is.”

Hurt, who had been a factory worker before becoming a full-time vendor, appreciates the social atmosphere of fair time as well.

“Just being out, meeting other people, seeing people from all over … I enjoy doing it,” he said.

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