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Published July 16, 2010, 12:00 AM

Get local fare at the street fair

People flock to Fargo’s Downtown Street Fair for the food as much as for the chance to buy eccentric art or whimsical trinkets.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

People flock to Fargo’s Downtown Street Fair for the food as much as for the chance to buy eccentric art or whimsical trinkets.

While mention of the fair might conjure up images of fried food on a stick, the three-day event, which draws an estimated 120,000 to 150,000 people each year, also has proven to be great exposure for local restaurants that opt to peddle their fare through a truck or stand.

Santa Lucia has been selling food at the street fair for 20 years. The business attends 60 to 80 festivals nationwide a year. Owner Maria Wilson said the street fair is one of the best.

“We have such a huge following in Fargo,” Wilson said. “People wait all year for the street fair to come and eat a gyro.”

The festivals make a big difference to the business, which usually offers several selections of gyro sandwiches, Wilson said.

“The exposure and because we’ve been doing it so many years – people know us and expect it,” Wilson said.

Café Aladdin, Juano’s Mexican Restaurant and Old Broadway have restaurant locations downtown, yet the eateries have all opted to set up vendor booths as well.

“Why turn down all the extra business?” said Thad Thorsness, Old Broadway general manager. “A lot of people just want to be outside.”

Old Broadway has participated in the street fair for at least the past 18 years, and the week of the fair is one of the restaurant’s busiest, he said.

The business sells fry bread tacos, tacos in a bag, pork chops on a stick, and hot dogs at a booth in the food court and one near the restaurant. Old Broadway has considered selling food sold in the restaurant, but Thorsness said offering typical outdoor cuisine “seems to go very well.”

Juano’s has participated in the street fair since 1997.

“It’s a good venue to expose the business to new customers who don’t come to downtown too often,” said owner Juan Mondragon. “There’s a lot of traffic, so you’re bound to do well.”

Juano’s offers burritos, tacos and nachos at its booth in the food court, Mondragon said, adding that if it’s hot or raining, people go to the restaurant.

“Those are the best three days of Juano’s downtown,” Mondragon said.

Café Aladdin doesn’t see much business at its downtown shop, which is off Broadway at 530 6th Ave. N., during the street fair, so owner Ahmad Younis said setting up booths on each end of the food court is important.

The restaurant serves gyro and vegetarian sandwiches, Greek salads and pastries at its booths.

Younis said that in addition to being a great way to promote the restaurant, participating in the street fair is also fun.

“It’s one thing a year that when you see it, you get the feelings in the air with everybody going out and having fun,” he said.

In determining prices, the businesses take into account booth, food and labor costs as well as street fair fees, insurance and what other vendors tend to charge, owners said.

Both Santa Lucia and Juano’s charge slightly higher prices at the restaurants, but customers get more food there than at the fair, Wilson and Mondragon said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526