Volume 7, Number 1, 1997

Bustling stand keeps retiree busy baking

At the Delaware State Fair in July, Diana Ash Wharff Jones, HP '65, '72M, scoops a mound of creamy, vanilla ice cream onto a baked apple dumpling to create a cinnamon apple sundae.

Twinkling lights, brightly colored flags and succulent-looking painted apples adorn her concession stand, dubbed An Apple A Day. Passers-by are tempted to sample her offerings-apple pie, apple crisp, apple cider and apple slices in warm caramel, to name just a few.

It's an atmosphere that Jones loves. "Every day is a new day in this job," Jones says. "I enjoy working with and meeting new people. Most people are reserved when they come up to the stand, but then you get involved in a conversation and you have a friend."

Twenty-seven years as a sixth-grade teacher in Delaware's Caesar Rodney School District prepared her for the job, Jones quips. "When you teach, you're used to standing all day and never getting a chance to go to the bathroom," she says jokingly.

Jones retired early, at age 49, and opened her concession business with her husband, David, who retired in 1994 from his position as president of what was formerly the J.C. Penney National Bank in Harrington. The couple has spent five years on the state fair circuit.

Every April through October, they travel throughout the East Coast, primarily the mid-Atlantic states, stopping for periods of five to 10 days at state fairs in such places as Virginia Beach, Va., York, Pa., Lexington, Ky., and, of course, at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington-the Joneses' home base.

For years, the Joneses have been active as volunteers at the Delaware State Fair, and David still serves on the board of directors. It was here that they learned the rewards of running a concession stand. "We both felt we were too young to do nothing after we retired. This way, we see a little bit of the country and earn some income at the same time," Jones says.

Each year, they log more than 10,000 miles with their concession stand, spending their winters in Arizona golfing, traveling and visiting with friends.

When they're on the road, Diana drives the couple's plush motor home and tows their Jeep. David tows the concession stand behind a heavy-duty Dodge Ram truck that holds five freezers in its custom-built box.

Breaking into the concession business was no small undertaking. Jones and her husband spent two years researching the idea by going to fairs and trade shows like those sponsored by the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. Then, while vacationing in Florida, Diana hit upon the apple theme when she saw a vendor at Universal Studios selling apple wedges and caramel dip. Jones took it a step further, adding other apple items to the menu.

"We didn't want to work with a grill, and we wanted the food to be at least mildly healthy," Jones says. "The apple theme is a unique product, and that helps you get into fairs." Concessionaires must apply to rent space at a fair, she says, and often they have to wait until a veteran concessionaire decides not to return.

Their custom-built concession stand, which measures 8 feet by 12 feet, is a marvel of well-organized space. Inside, a short, narrow aisle is surrounded by a gas convection oven, a food warmer, four sinks, cabinets, counter space, an ice cream freezer, a display warmer, a soda machine and a coffee maker. Outside are two more freezers full of supplies.

Jones buys frozen pastries from food brokers and then bakes them as needed at the stand. In a typical fair season, An Apple A Day serves up 500 three-gallon tubs of ice cream, 450 apple pies, 800 pounds of apple crisp and nearly 2,000 pounds of caramel.

Income from a 5- to 10-day fair can range from $1,200 to $15,000. The location of the stand, the size of the crowds, the weather and even local attitudes toward fairs all have their effect, Jones says. Business is typically light at Pennsylvania's Allentown Fair, for instance, but more brisk in Delaware and Richmond.

"Some fairs are eating fairs, some aren't," Jones explains. "Virginia is an eating fair. People there have food in one hand, food in the other and they're walking around looking for food."

Jones and her husband plan to travel with their concession stand for four or five more years, working beside the many concessionaires who are their friends, as well as the fair-goers who seek them out year after year for some conversation and warm apple treats.

-Theresa Gawlas Medoff, AS '94M