Archive for Thursday, October 25, 2007

Funnel cakes are festival tradition

October 25, 2007

Funnel cakes, get your funnel cakes.

That's been a familiar sound at the heart of the Maple Leaf Festival for more than 20 years. The Baldwin City Lions Club makes hundreds of funnel cakes each year.

"I think we are now a tradition," said Mike Gammage, Lions Club secretary and treasurer.

For two days in October, the local group brings in the majority of its money for the year during a single event. This year was no exception for the group as its sales were high again.

"We did better than last year, because the weather cooperated with us," Gammage said. "It was about a normal year for us."

Dennis Waymire, Lions Club president, reported the group made an estimated $5,200 at this year's festival. He also said they served around 1,000 funnel cakes during the two days.

The majority of that money will go back into the Baldwin City community, whether through high school scholarships, community emergency fund, education foundation, funding eyeglasses or many of the other funds that the group donates to.

"Maple Leaf is our major fundraiser for the year," Waymire said. "We make about $5,000 in two days at that trailer. Almost all of that money goes back into the community. We try to keep the money right here in the community."

Recipe for success

Each year the line for the Lions Club stand remains busy during the two days of the festival. Several reasons can be credited for the success of the local group, including camaraderie, longevity, changing with the times and most of all -- location.

When asked about how their location helps with their success, several Lions Club members couldn't credit the location enough. Their stand has remained on the northeast corner of Eighth and High streets for more than 20 years. It sits across the street from the emcee's stand and next to the information tent -- prime location for a food stand.

"Like they say in real estate: location, location and location," Gammage said. "When you're right across the street from the Maple Leaf announcer, it's a great thing."

Other members of the organization agreed, saying the corner of Eighth and High streets fits them well.

"It's a great location," Darrell Bowersox said. "We are right in the middle of it all."

Although the booth has remained at Eighth and High for many years, it wasn't always that way. For the first year, it was located at the corner of Seventh and High streets. Then it was moved into the present-day Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce building.

It remained in that building, until the chamber took it over and the Lions Club purchased its present-day camper trailer to run its stand out of. They have been using that camper for more than 10 years.

"It really works a lot better than the building," Bowersox said. "I was one of the ones who didn't think it would work, but it has worked great."

Soon after the camper was purchased, the group also updated its cooking equipment. For many years the Lions Club cooked on a stovetop with grease in the pans.

During the early 1990s, the group purchased the two deep-fat fryers that it currently uses. The group also updated its way of making the funnel cakes to make them faster and easier.

"We've come a long way," David Reed said. "We had two gas stoves and two skillets when we began. We started out making them from scratch, but after a few years we got a ready-mix recipe. That sped things up considerably."

The Lions Club can cook up to six funnel cakes at one time, with each one taking about two minutes to cook. Although it can get very busy in the booth, members say the funnel cake operation runs smoothly all of the time.

"It really doesn't get hectic in there," Waymire said. "It runs really smoothly. We keep on top of everything with up to seven people in there at a time. We have it ordered pretty nicely."

Bowersox said the group works well together, which helps make the operation run smoothly.

"There is always good natured kidding among us when we are working," Bowersox said. "We have a lot of fun the entire weekend."

Working long hours

A successful operation wouldn't be what it is without many people working long, hard hours. The Lions Club funnel cake stand is no exception.

Waymire figured up that the group put in 140-150 volunteer hours of work this weekend to run the annual booth.

"We don't ever have a problem trying to find volunteers to work the weekend," Waymire said. "I try to emphasize how many hours it takes to run the stand and everyone understands and pitches in their time. We hardly, if ever, need more help at any time."

Although the booth remains constantly busy during the entire weekend, there is about a five-hour window on Saturday that swamps the funnel cake stand.

From noon to about 5 p.m. most food booths at Maple Leaf are very busy. The funnel cake stand makes around half of its profit during those five hours, according to Waymire.

"It takes about seven people to run the trailer during that time," Waymire said. "It turns into a real business real fast at that point. Even when we are busy, we do have a lot of fun in there."

Enjoyment from being a part of the town's largest festival is one major reason the Lions Club members come back every year. Add that to the fact that the funnel cakes have become a long-standing festival tradition and you get a recipe for success, Maple Leaf style.

"It's funny that some people come here just for the funnel cakes," Waymire said. "I'm amazed that people stand in line and don't ever complain. One lady even told me we are a tradition and she has to buy her funnel cake every year."

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