The Fresno Fair is a beloved attraction within the Central Valley. Fair food, rides, attractions and auctions have played a significant role in catching the public’s eye and attention each year.
With the closure and cancellation of events due to COVID-19, the Fresno Fair had to quickly make adjustments to accommodate for a safe, friendly and fun experience for all who chose to attend from Oct. 9 to Oct. 18.
Thus, the idea of Drive Thru-Eats was born. Lauri King, Deputy Manager II of the fair, said preparations for a COVID-19 friendly fair started in late spring.
“Essentially, planning our annual fair starts immediately after the last fair ends, but as you can imagine, as we were watching this situation unfold, we started to make varied plans,” King said.
King continued by saying that these various plans were created based upon how the Fresno community was doing as fair season began approaching.
“We really have been working on plans for the fair since last year, but working on these varied operational plans really hit us about May,” King said.
King said the most challenging part about planning the fair was the unknown of what the pandemic would bring. “We’ve never imagined holding a drive-thru fair, so kind of working through those logistics of rather than people coming through our fairgrounds, we’re talking about [people coming in their] vehicles,” she said.
The entrance to Drive-Thru Eats was located on Kings Canyon Rd. where cars could enter either through the main entrance or through the fast pass lane if they had purchased a ticket.
Because the event was presented by Toyota, those with Toyota vehicles were given a free $50 dollar fast pass to drive-thru to their favorite food booths.
A total of 18 different booths were open to fair drivers, some of which included Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ, Fat Frankie’s Funnel Cake, Dole Whip, the Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls and many more.
Each booth was labeled and signs were placed across the fair grounds to help direct drivers to the booth of their choice. Along with signs, multiple volunteers spoke with drivers to help direct them to their desired food booths.
To comply with both state and county health guidelines, guests were told they must review the fair’s health & safety policy online before attending and that they must remain in their vehicles at all times when at the event.
When attending the fair, the overall process for taking orders and giving attendees their food was smooth although the fair arena looked chaotic.
Restaurant and business employees were constantly checking in on drivers to take orders and making sure each order was accurate when given back to guests.
Fresno State junior Aimee Khanchareun said she enjoyed Drive-Thru Eats and was able to attend the event with her friends. “We thought it went well and was organized very nicely,” she said. “[The] food was delicious and it was just overall a cool vibe!”
Fresno State graduate Isabel Aguliera agreed with Khanchareun.
“I think it was a great alternative considering current circumstances,” Aguliera said. “Vendors were able to make some money and customers were excited for the experience.”
Fresno State senior Hoang Doan said it’s tradition for her and her family to attend the fair each year. Unfortunately, her experience with Drive-Thru Eats wasn’t as great as she hoped it would be.
“I do wish there were more people to guide [the cars] because people were confused…they also thought we were cutting in line when one of the workers told us to go ahead,” Doan said.
Although Doan wasn’t excited about the drive-thru fair experience, she did say she loved the idea of the Toyota Fast Pass. Overall, Doan said she’s hoping everything turns back to normal sometime soon.
Throughout the week of the fair, various forms of entertainment were also held in-person during Drive-Thru Eats.
Strolling entertainment, like clowns, cowboys and pirates, performed daily at the fair while live performances such as dancers, singers and bands were scheduled throughout the week of the event.
One of the most well known aspects of the Fresno Fair is live performances by famous artists. In the past, the fair has welcomed artists such as Ariana Grande, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ice Cube, Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and more.
This year’s concert series featured Becky G, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Ezra Ray Hart and the Isley Brothers, but all concerts were cancelled due to the pandemic.
Despite this setback, the fair made this year’s entertainment line-up special by featuring local performers during the Drive-Thru Eats event.
“[This is] a great opportunity for us to showcase our community because that really is the foundation of the Big Fresno Fair,” King said.
“As they’re [the attendees] navigating the fair grounds and stopping at their food booths, it [the performances] just adds that element of, we have the smell and the taste of the fair with the food and now we have the sounds of the fair with this live music component.”
While Drive-Thru Eats and the entertainment portion of the fair were able to be conducted safely in-person, other activities such as the livestock auction, the marketplace and the art exhibit were moved online.
Although the fair came with its hardships, King said giving people a fun experience is what has driven them to create the best experience they can with Drive-Thru Eats.
“We didn’t really know what the community response would be like,” King said. “We were hopeful that they would get excited about a drive-thru event because it’s an aspect of our Big Fresno Fair that everybody knows and loves.”
While the fair may have been very different from years prior, attendees were given the opportunity to experience something unique and new.