Tri-state residents found a taste of comfort at the Dubuque County Fairgrounds on Saturday, without even getting out of their cars.
From 9 to 11 a.m., the fairgrounds partnered with Dubuque restaurant Town Clock Inn and Cascade, Iowa's Koppes Kreations for a drive-by food-to-go sale. It was the sixth such event the fairgrounds has hosted since March, and the fourth in which it partnered with those two vendors, according to Kevin Kotz, fairgrounds general manager.
Kotz described the event as not just a revenue generator for the businesses involved, but an opportunity for patrons to safely see friends and get the food they enjoy.
“It’s our livelihood,” he said. “As an event center, we’ve been down since St. Patrick’s Day … I just don’t want people to forget about the fairgrounds. We’re known for our food; I just want people to get their hands on it again.”
As cars entered the fairgrounds parking lot, patrons received a menu listing the offerings and prices. They then pulled up next to the ballroom, where Kotz and other fairgrounds representatives handed over bags of turkey and dressing or containers of roast beef. New for Saturday’s sale was pork loin cooked by Daryl Biechler, president of the Dubuque County Fair Association Board of Directors.
After paying for their food, customers pulled forward to the next tent, where Town Clock Inn owners Irene and Scott Nelson passed frozen pizzas through the vehicles' windows.
The Nelsons said that the fairgrounds events, as well as pickups they’ve organized at their downtown restaurant, have been critical for their business during the pandemic.
“It’s kept our lights on,” Irene said.
“It hasn’t supplemented everything we’ve lost, but it definitely helped,” Scott added.
Further down the parking lot, Brittany Koppes and Nikki Steffen, of Koppes Kreations, loaded pre-packaged cupcakes and sugar cookies into customers’ cars.
"The support of the local community has been tremendous," Steffen said. "It’s kept our hopes up. It's helped keep our doors open."
Traffic at the event was steady but much lighter than in previous weeks, when the vendors had seen upwards of 250 cars and frequently sold out of their items, according to Kotz. He speculated that the recent opening of the Dubuque Farmers Market, as well as the easing of restrictions on restaurants, had contributed to the decline in customers.
Still, repeat customers such as Lisa Huinker returned to stock up on their favorite products. Huinker said she came out to support small businesses and said she will continue to do so as long as the event continues.
“They’re what makes our community,” she said.
Vicky Banwarth, of Peosta, Iowa, who attended the sale for the first time Saturday, agreed.
“I know they’re struggling, so I just want to help them out,” she said. “We want to keep the small businesses in the area open.”