HURON – For the past 40 years, the South Dakota State Fair has undergone immense change and throughout those four decades, “Betty’s” has been right in the middle of things.
Find a map of the state fairgrounds - there is one at sdstatefair.com - and draw a line from the SW corner to the NE corner and then another from SE to NW.
Where they intersect is where Betty Albright has operated “Betty’s” since she purchased it following the 1981 state fair.
After last year’s fair, Betty made the decision to step away from the stand, and after some time Brian Zajak of North Dakota purchased the space and is operating the stand this year.
But, back to Betty.
“I bought the stand from Elmer and Cecil Boyd, who had Boyd’s Wagon Wheel and I renamed it right away,” she said.
Albright said she grew up in the Wessington Springs and Kimball areas, but she and her parents came to the fair every year. “It was quite a big deal,” she said. “We brought fried chicken and had a picnic in a park when we came up.”
She said she was working at the telephone company when the chance came to buy the stand. “It is always something that I wanted to do.” During the early years, she took vacation time from the phone company to work the fair.
“Over the years, my kids – Doug, Donna and Darci – have worked there, along with their families,” Albright said. “And we have had oh so many other wonderful kids and others who have become part of our extended family.”
Over the years, Albright said that she has sought to purchase meat and other products locally. “I started buying meat at Farmer’s Market, if you can remember them, on the north side of town? Then I bought from B&K Lockers and then started buying from Dennis Decker at Country Butcher Shop in Iroquois.” She has established and maintained valued relationships with vendors as well as her customers through the years.
Health issues forced her to consider selling the food stand. “It takes a lot of planning to get ready and then the days at the fair are long and you work very hard,” she said. “It was just time.”
“When I decided I went through the whole stand to make sure everything was in good shape and then I contacted the fair board to find out the procedure.” Albright noted that while she owns the stand and everything in it, the State Fair owns the property. “The fair board has been so good to work with through the years. They have really taken care of us.”
One potential sale fell through. Then Julie Kropuenske, the vendor coordinator for the fair, told Albright that she had a couple people who had left their names, “if something became available.”
“Two days later, Brian called and we schedule a time for he and his Dad to come check out the stand,” she said. “Within a week, he called and said he would take it.”
“I had a food trailer at the fair last year,” said Brian Zajak, via telephone as he prepared for this year’s fair. “I was near Betty and saw she was busy, had good traffic at her location. So, when I found out she was looking to sell, I was interested.”
Zajak, from Mantador, in extreme southeast North Dakota, is a food truck veteran, working with his Dad since the 1990s before going out on his own seven years ago.
“We have fresh squeezed lemonade,” Zajak said, “as well as hand dipped corn dogs and corn brats.
“Yeah,” he said with a chuckle. “We take a South Dakota-made bratwurst on a stick, hand dip it in cornmeal batter and deep fry it. It’s become very popular.”
Zajak said the he doesn’t plan any major changes at “Betty’s” this year and noted that he will be bringing his food trailer again. “I learned from Betty that the BBQ recipe she uses came from the previous owner, so that has been proven to work. We will definitely be keeping the BBQs and some of the other things. We’ll see what was successful and go forward from there.”
Albright becomes emotional when she talks about the friends she has made through the years and reflects on the success she has had at the food stand.
“We always made things fresh,” she said. “For instance, we made all of the BBQs right in the stand and cooked each burger to order. We tried to keep things simple and just offer good food.”
Speaking of the future of the stand with Zajak, Albright smiles and said, “I think it’s in good hands.”