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At this year’s San Diego County Fair, a business coup took place that went unnoticed by most fairgoers; but, it was the talk of longtime merchandise-booth owners in Bing Crosby Hall.

For over 25 years, out of the same spot in the southwest corner of the exhibit hall, Donut Express has served fresh, warm, mini-donuts coated with sugar. This year, the name of the booth had changed. And gone are the orange, 1980s-vintage machines. The equipment, while looking mechanically the same, is shiny and new. The name on the plexiglas booth read, “Dixie’s Mini Donuts.”

Dixie Moore of Vista worked for Donut Express for 18 years. In recent years, Moore was the familiar face one would see cooking and greeting customers. Moore said she had a falling out with her boss earlier this year.  

When it came time to sign this year’s lease, the fair picked Moore, because they knew she was the operational person in charge, claims Moore. “My name had also been on the lease for years."

In front of a constant line of customers, two machines drop the dough into the hot oil. The donuts cook as they float down a two-foot-long river of oil and then wind up in a pan of sugar. At four dollars a dozen, it is a traditional must-eat for many fairgoers.

As of Thursday, July 1, at 2:00 p.m., according the counters on machines, Dixie and her helpers (her two grandkids) had cranked out 172,396 mini donuts at this year’s fair.

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Ponzi July 4, 2010 @ 11:07 a.m.

Is this accurate? She bought two new machines and made 172,396 doughnuts exclusively at this fair?

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Javajoe25 July 4, 2010 @ 11:43 a.m.

At $4 a dozen, that works out to $57,465.33. Not a bad take for a few weeks work. Grandmothers have always been good with numbers.

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Ken Harrison July 5, 2010 @ 8:20 a.m.

Yes the machines were brand new for this years fair. Counters were at zero. I watched as donuts dropped into the oil and saw the counters click each time. I couldn't believe it either. And I also did the math, but when you take into account the booth rental, fair's percentage on top of rental (that's why each booth is such a stickler for giving you a receipt, the fair demands accountability of total sales.) Also the cost of oil and batter, they use a lot, plus paying her grandkids. Is it worth 21 days straight (only 2 Monday's off) from 10AM to 10PM every day????

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Javajoe25 July 5, 2010 @ 12:26 p.m.

Oh, no boutadoubtit-- you work for your money. But it is very good money: The Fair gets anywhere from $990 - $3200 for the space, usually in 10 ft. X 10 ft. increments, so I figure Dixie paid around $1800 (or less) for the space, plus 25% of total sales = approx. $14,250, then the oil, batter, sugar, paper plates, etc., approx. $2500? And then the two kids; this was actually the toughest one to figure. When you're working for Grammy, you don't invoke wage & hour laws, but, on the other hand, Grammies are usually overly generous, so let's say she's paying the kids $8/hr? X 11 hrs (and this is assuming they lasted that long. That's another thing: nobody outlasts Grammy) = $88/day X 21 days = $1848 X 2 = $3,696.00.

So, $1800 for the space; $14,250 percentage to the fairgrounds; $2500 supplies; and $3,696 for labor, totals $22,246. Take that from total sales of $57,465, and that leaves you with $22,246. Divided by 21 days = $1,059. Divide that by 11 hrs (per day) and Grammy scores $96.30/hr.

Like I said, Grandmothers are very good with numbers.

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Ken Harrison July 6, 2010 @ 7:06 a.m.

Wow, great math! Thanks for the insight. My wife's first job in CA in 1986 was at the fair. She would never do it again.

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SurfPuppy619 July 6, 2010 @ 8:49 a.m.

And I also did the math, but when you take into account the booth rental, fair's percentage on top of rental (that's why each booth is such a stickler for giving you a receipt, the fair demands accountability of total sales.) Also the cost of oil and batter, they use a lot, plus paying her grandkids. Is it worth 21 days straight (only 2 Monday's off) from 10AM to 10PM every day????

I was a supplier for the Fair in the early 90's, and the amount of money the food vendors made was astronomical.

In fact one local vendor who was from San Diego who debuted at Del Mar-Ten Pound Buns, who made a french style bread with cheese melted on top of it- quit their San Diego engineering jobs and went into the fair business F/T b/c it was so profitable. The fairs are on a circuit druing the summer months (OC, LA, SD etc). Ten Pound Buns was not even on the midway. The booths on the midway bring in the most money.

In addition these food vendors deal in cash for much of their transactions (not the food sales), so they are able to pay some expenses off the books, and not pay any taxes.

Let me repeat, the food vendors at the fairs are making tremendous smounts of money.

These

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CuddleFish July 6, 2010 @ 9:50 a.m.

Thanks, that was a really interesting article, and follow-up.

A small carnival operates in Memorial Park two or three times a year. I always wondered if their accounting was "accurate."

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SurfPuppy619 July 6, 2010 @ 12:08 p.m.

A small carnival operates in Memorial Park two or three times a year. I always wondered if their accounting was "accurate."

Yes, there are also the small park carnivals, which in my opinion are much more fun, and if they have cash transactions going on at Del Mar, I would bet it is twice as bad in the smaller venues.

Do you know if they still have the small summer carnival at Kimball Park in National City-on D street??? That was always fun.........

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SurfPuppy619 July 6, 2010 @ 12:14 p.m.

Oh, I have to tell this one, at the end of the Del Mar fair that year I supplied all the food vendors, the last payments were in one lump sum at the end, on July 4th or 5th, the last night of the fair.

Every single one of those food stands paid me in cold hard cash-I'm not kidding. At the end of the night I had $30K in cash. I was, for one of the few times in my life, worried about walking back to my car for fear of getting held up at gun point/killed over the cash.

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CuddleFish July 6, 2010 @ 12:50 p.m.

SurfPup, if you are speaking of the carnival that is attached to the 4th of July festivities, yes, we were there this year -- the attendance, compared to just before the economic downturn -- was really down. I remember the years it was jam-packed, couldn't move, long lines, no parking anywhere near the place. This year, we found a parking spot right next to the park, we could walk fairly easily through the crowds, and the lines were moving quickly.

The prices on everything have gone up, including the games -- what used to be dime pitch is now a quarter -- needless to say, not many people were playing. There were not as many games offered, not as many food booths, was not as much fun as in the past. But I have to tell you, the fireworks were generous and spectacular!!!

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Javajoe25 July 6, 2010 @ 9:45 p.m.

Yea, a few years back, a buddy of mine worked the Del Mar Fair (I still like to call it that) at one of the food concessions and he said he worked 'til he was about to drop and only earned the $8/hr as promised. The following year he drove the shuttle ($10/hr) from the parking lots to the front gate and said he never sucked in so much dust in his life. He's pretty much given up being a "Fair" worker. Can't say I blame him. I think it only pays if you are an owner/operator.

There was a thrift store on University Avenue that had what looked like a hot dog wagon for sale, and I think I may have missed my chance at the big bucks by not buying it.

I've talked to vendors who work the circuit and they tell me they work their tails off for 3 or 4 months, but then they kick back in Arizona or New Mexico for the rest of the year. I think I could get used to that. I also know a few rockhounds who work the Quartzite to Tucson and beyond circuit, and do about the same thing. You work the season, and then relax, catch up on your fishing; load up on some good books from the second-hand store, and take a few months vacation in some beautiful places. Yea, I should have bought that hot dog wagon. Doggonit!

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SurfPuppy619 July 6, 2010 @ 10:52 p.m.

Yes, you work basically 4 weeks straight-as in every single day, then you have a week off to break down and set up at the next venue, but the season only last 4 months.

It is hard work, but the selected few who do the circuit make the big bucks-that's why they have been doing it for 20, 30 or more years-these vendors don't quit, the fair circuit is a money train.

CF, I prefer the smaller park carnivals, they just are more fun b/c of the smaller, more intimate venue-plus it feels small townish, and I like that feeling.

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CuddleFish July 7, 2010 @ 9:41 a.m.

Yes, when little carnivals are done right, they are charming. :)

The Del Mar Fair is a great time, too, though.

Maybe it's more of the kind of people we are, small town San Diego! Love it! :)

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xians421 July 8, 2010 @ 11:08 p.m.

My favorite thing to do at the small carnivals is to walk up to the Ferris Wheel operator with a large greasy bolt in my hand and tell the guy I found it right next to the ride.

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SunSmith Sept. 19, 2010 @ 10:48 p.m.

You also need to include the cost of the two machines that she bought. I've been pricing them, and new they are in the $7,000 range each, minimum.

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