A masked employee takes orders Thursday from customers in vehicles at the Santa Maria Fairpark, where residents can get drive-through access to fair food this weekend.
A masked employee takes orders Thursday from customers in vehicles at the Santa Maria Fairpark, where residents can get drive-through access to fair food this weekend from vendor Fanny’s Fabulous Funnel Cakes. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A taste of the Santa Barbara County Fair will be served up this weekend for those craving their favorite fried foods. 

Through Sunday, Fanny’s Fabulous Funnel Cakes will provide drive-through access to popular fair foods at the Santa Maria Fairpark, 937 S. Thornburg St. The annual fair won’t occur this month because of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Funnel cakes, deep-fried Oreos, corndogs, cotton candy and lemonade will be on the menu for hungry fans who don’t even need to exit their vehicles for their boxed and bagged delights.

Fanny’s, operated by Ron and Mary Beth Mize from Oregon, offered a similar service during Memorial Day weekend and found residents hungry for some fair food. 

“It was awesome. Santa Maria is absolutely amazing. The people were so supportive and so friendly, and they were just happy to have something here, something to celebrate,” Mary Beth Mize said. “A little taste of the fair. Everybody’s tired of being inside, I think.”

Normally, Fanny’s funnel cakes would be served up at Central California fairs during the summer, but the public health crisis related to COVID-19 caused the festival industry to crash to a halt. 

So far, the vendor has served up food in San Mateo and Fresno counties, home to other fairs they typically visit during a normal season.

“Everywhere we’ve been, everyone’s been really supportive,” Mize said. 

She contacted Santa Maria Fairpark leaders about setting up shop in Santa Barbara County, and they said they were happy to host the vendor.

A vendor is selling funnel cakes and other fair food favorites at a drive-through booth at the Santa Maria Fairpark this weekend.

A vendor is selling funnel cakes and other fair food favorites at a drive-through booth at the Santa Maria Fairpark this weekend. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“We’re all just trying to figure out a way to survive,” she said. 

Fairpark CEO Richard Persons has said he would like to host popular vendors periodically as allowed under public health rules, which limit the site to a single booth.

“We love having Fanny’s Fabulous Funnel Cakes visit the Santa Maria Fairpark,” Persons said. “They have a wide variety of classic fair foods and it really provides a great outlet for all our fair fans to satisfy their fair food cravings.”

Normally, the fairpark would be abuzz with activity this weekend ahead of the five-day fair’s planned opening July 15. The loss of the fair because of public health crisis will leave the fairpark without 58 percent of its annual revenue, Persons added. 

Local fair leaders have sounded alarms about the long-term viability of the Fairpark.

“We aren’t alone,” Persons said. “The same is true of every fairgrounds in the state and country that has had to cancel their major events.”

The loss will be felt by more than just the Fairpark. The fair generates more than $14 million in direct economic impact in the community, according to studies by the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

Other fairgrounds and vendors have offered similar access to fair food this summer. Without the innovative drive-through offering, the Ashland, Ore.-based vendor would be grounded. 

“We have no events, so it’s not good but we’re finding work,” Mize said.

The couple also have provided jobs, hiring two local teens to help out this weekend.

Getting permission to serve up fair food minus the fair meant obtaining food truck licenses. 

“The only way to get a permit to operate, you have to be licensed as a food truck because there are no community events or temporary event licenses being issued right now,” Mize said. “It’s not easy to get passed as a food truck. A lot people that do fairs were not set up for that.”

With a permit to operate in Santa Barbara County, she said they’re open to setting up in another community. 

Fanny’s began in 1995 after initially offering Cajun food. A neighboring vendor provided inspiration for a different product.

“We were next to someone that was doing funnel cakes, and it looked a lot easier,” she said. “And I had my first funnel cake and it was delicious. I thought, ‘Yes, I want to do that.’”

During fairs and festivals, Franny’s menu includes more fried foods, but Mize trimmed the list to quick-to-prepare offerings to reduce customers’ waiting times. 

After opening from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, the booth will resume serving food from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday with the drive-through route set up at the parking lot entrance on Thornburg Street, near Stowell Road.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.