Togetherness at Buena Vista County Fair
While hamburgers sizzle on the stove and the sweet smell of onion rings waft through the air, Faye Peterson delivers a smile a mile wide.
The laughter of employees and customers echoes throughout her family restaurant on the grounds of the Buena Vista County Fair, a long building complete with long red and white checkered countertops, wooden benches and tall cold glasses of lemonade and favorite soft drinks.
One of the mainstays of the county fair, Peterson's Family Cafe has been serving fairgoers entering the facility with hot dogs, turkey fillets, Maid-Rite sandwiches and other appetizers and main dishes for nearly 40 years, and Peterson, one of the co-founders of the family operation, said the growth of the foodstand over the past four decades has been both unexpected and fulfilling.
"When we started this I don't think we thought we would still be here now," Peterson, the co-owner of the Peach Blossom store in Storm Lake, said. "We thought it would be a fun thing to start up, but we had no idea that we'd be here nearly 40 years down the road. It's been a great experience to be a part of, particularly since it's been a family business. That's made it a lot of fun for all of us."
"We see a lot of people that come in here throughout the fair, and it's something that is fun to do throughout the four days," manager Todd Peterson, who works at Peterson Jewelry in Alta, said. "It's something different to do, and it's something that we all enjoy to do."
The foodstand has grown from humble beginnings in 1963, when Peterson and sisters Iona Hausman and Lola Radke decided to fill the void left when the Alta Golf and Country Club decided not to continue with their stand that year after 20 years serving fairgoers. The three sisters and a friend, Gene Sherwood, contacted the fair secretary at the time, Waldo Brown, asking him for permission to set up a tent where the young entrepreneurs would sell simple food such as beef burgers and an assortment of homemade pies.
After receiving Brown's approval, the quartet rented refrigerators from Harry Melander, brought in tables and benches from the Methodist church and filled a large horse watering tank with ice to store cold bottles of soft drinks for thirsty patrons.
They also had a makeshift security force consisting of Lola's husband, Orville Radke, and their son, Roger, who alternated staying up all night with their dog to guard the money inside the stand.
While the set-up inside the tent was basic, people around the fair flocked to the new business, and Peterson said all four partners were thrilled with the success of their small enterprise.
"Everything was very minimal of course, since we had to rent everything from different places around town, but it was exciting," Faye said. "We didn't have the large vending machines to store drinks in or anything like that, but we always had homemade pies and simple sandwiches, and I think people liked that. We liked doing it too, because we were able to meet so many people and have fun ourselves during the fair."
The business slowly grew over the next decade, and then received a huge boost in 1974, when Peterson's Family Store moved into its new home inside the recently-constructed Buena Vista County Fair Building. The family rented the space from the fair board and soon stocked the building with a number of used appliances, which helped Faye and other be able to expand the menu past simple Maid-Rites and ham sandwiches.
While the Peterson family staples of homemade apple, cherry, blueberry, pecan, chocolate, lemon, banana creme, coconut and peach pies were still available, customers were also able to sample items such as chicken strips, coney dogs, turkey fillets and onion rings.
The new building also gave them an opportunity to store their appliances and keep items in one place year-round, helping to cut down on set-up and clean-up time for the employees.
While the new fair building increased visibility for the company, another secret in its success was the willingness of family members to assist Faye and others in the four-day venture as cooks, waiters and waitresses.
That love of the business has spread down the family tree to include Peterson grandchildren, and Faye said those family contributions have been invaluable in helping the business thrive.
"It's something they love to do, and they come back every year to help out," Faye said. "A lot help out when they're growing up, and they keep on helping as they get older. That's what makes this so much fun. It's something that we get to do as a family, year after year."