Aug 24, 2023 - State Fair

Minnesota State Fair vendors hope this year marks return to normal

The entrance of the state fair

Photo: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Que Viet's massive egg rolls have become a Minnesota State Fair favorite, but the vendor's quick success didn't come without some bumps behind the scenes.

What happened: Last year, a global shortage of rice paper caused by COVID shutdowns in Vietnam was so bad that co-owner Vy Bui and her partners had to buy a shipping container to ensure they'd have enough paper to make the 40,000 rolls they ultimately sold.

  • It paid off: The stand is only five years old, but did $615,000 in sales last year, ranking 11th for all vendors at the fair.

Why it matters: Vendors such as Que Viet are hoping that 2023 is the year things finally get back to normal after three years of turmoil — first the fair's 2020 cancellation, then small, virus-weary crowds in 2021, and finally a worker shortage in 2022.

State of play: Attendance and spending at the State Fair rebounded last year, but still didn't quite reach pre-pandemic levels. Vendors would love to see the trend continue, but some are wondering how consumers will feel, given the state of inflation and uncertainty about a recession.

  • "With the current economic situation, it's really unpredictable this year for us," Bui told Axios.

Meanwhile, at Giggle's Campfire Grill, owner Tim Weiss told Axios he has hired 260 workers, on par with his 2019 staffing. He said had to go on a local TV broadcast last year to beg for workers because he couldn't find enough to sell walleye cakes and dill pickle Kölsch beer (he quickly got 50 applicants).

  • As long as the weather is good he expects big crowds despite any economic uncertainty because it's tradition. "I think people who want to go to the fair go to the fair," he said.

What we're watching: Expect to see prices rise this year as vendors grapple with higher costs for ingredients and labor. While inflation has cooled in the Twin Cities to 1%, food prices have been more stubborn, at 3.5%.

  • The aforementioned rice paper cost $20 a case in 2019, Bui said. Last year it spiked to $120 but has only dropped to about $75 today.
  • Que Viet increased the price of its egg roll this year from $10 to $11, the first hike in three years.

Go deeper: The most popular Minnesota State Fair vendors

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