There’s probably no one thing more popular at the Kansas State Fair than the Dairy Bar beneath the grandstand, where Alma cheese curds and double-dip ice cream cones are legendary.
This year, fairgoers will find a dairy bar with a brand-new look and the ability to serve up those delicious treats quicker.
“We hadn’t made any renovations to that space in at least 20 years,” says Stephanie Eckroat, executive director of the Kansas Dairy Association, which operates the dairy bar. “We had been talking about an update for some time. When I became director, I made it a goal of mine to get this done.”
Eckroat made a case to the board for a full remodeling.
“I felt that the public wasn’t getting a good perception of dairy. The space was old and worn. During the fair, some 300,000 people see that space. There is nothing else we do that brings us in touch with that many people. This is our opportunity to showcase our products and make sure people have a great perception of the dairy industry,” she says.
Last year, the first phase of the remodeling was done when the storage space was cleaned up and spruced up with a new façade that blocked the view of freezers and stored equipment and offered a farm view with an American flag and big blue Harvestore.
“I was really excited about the change that made,” Eckroat says. “But this year, the really big change has been made.”
Credit for the basic design goes to Jerry Schwartz, owner and operator of Cedar Hill Dairy Farm in Carleton, who also has a degree in architecture. The new space has a clean, modern look with five television screens showing video loops of the dairy industry in Kansas. Pillars have a 1950s twist with black-and-white tiles, red lights, a redone neon dairy sign and a roof shingled to look like an old-fashioned soda shop.
The counters and lane dividers have been covered in corrugated metal, with a row of glass blocks inserted to add to the look. The glass blocks are also a bit of history preservation — they were discovered inside the plywood walls during the demolition of the old space and reused in the new look.
In addition to a new appearance, the Dairy Bar will have increased functionality, with six customer service lines instead of two, an additional soft-serve machine to speed up service, and iPads with credit card capability at every checkout.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the ice cream and dairy treats that keep customers coming back. The Kansas Dairy Association buys the raw materials from Kansas-based suppliers. Traditional suppliers have included Dean’s Foods, Hildebrand Dairy, Hiland Dairy and Call Hall Ice Cream from Kansas State University. Cheese curds for sale at the Dairy Bar come from Alma Cheese.
The manpower for serving customers will continue to be young people, primarily from an association of home-school groups from the Hutchinson area.
“We have used kids from this association for several years,” Eckroat says. “They are great kids, polite, kind and respectful.”
Several student groups from dairy-related organizations also work part time at the Dairy Bar to earn money for their groups, including the Brown Swiss cattle exhibitors, the K-State Dairy Science Club, the North Central Technical College and Collegiate Farm Bureau.
“Those groups work just a few hours or a day,” Eckroat says. “The primary day-in and day-out workers are the home-schooled kids.”
Even after this year’s facelift, work to improve the Dairy Bar experience will continue, Eckroat says. This year, videos will be played on five screens, giving customers waiting in line or eating their treats a chance to see daily life on Kansas dairy farms.
Next year, there will be new videos with subtitles.
“The videos are nice, but it is pretty noisy in there and it is hard to hear the audio, so when we redo them, we are going to add subtitles so people waiting in line can read the message if they can’t hear it.”
Partnerships with the Kansas Dairy Commission and the Kansas Farm Bureau to drive traffic to the Dairy Bar will continue, Eckroat says.
Visitors to the milking parlor demonstration, which is funded by the Dairy Commission, get a coupon for a free sample at the Dairy Bar, and children visiting the Kansas Farm Bureau exhibit, where they see various ag activities and complete an ag quiz, can get a free sample as well.
“Last year we gave away 12,000 ice cream sample cones through the Farm Bureau partnership,” she says. “This year, we are going to offer people with sample coupons an option to use their coupon for a 50-cent discount on a full-sized cone if they’d rather have that than the sample.”
Barn quilt contest gets featured spot at Dairy Bar
One of the most popular features of the Kansas State Fair in 2016 was a new Barn Quilt Contest, challenging county fairs across the state to submit the winners of local contests in the growing barn quilt movement to the state fair.
“It was one of our most popular county fair contests,” says Commercial Exhibits Director Sue Steckline. “We expect it to grow this year.”
The movement, in which local farmers or farm organizations paint quilt patterns on barns, has been growing across Kansas and the nation for several years.
It invites the sharing of the ethnic tradition of quilt patterns by sharing them in a public way with people driving by farm barns on highways or byways.
“We decided that last year’s inaugural barn quilt winner will hang on the barn façade in the Dairy Bar,” Steckline says. “I think it will be a nice addition.”
Fun Facts about the Dairy Bar
• Each year the Dairy Bar sells about 1,500 gallons of ice cream in 20 different flavors of hard pack, including three or four sugar-free options. Hard-pack ice cream suppliers include Hiland, Call Hall and Dean’s Foods.
• Hildebrand Dairy is the supplier for about 470 gallons of vanilla soft-serve mix and about 300 gallons of chocolate soft-serve mix.
• Alma Cheese is the supplier for about 20 cases of cheese curds sold annually.
• Chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches and root beer floats in both regular and low-sugar choices are available at the Dairy Bar.
• Not in the mood for ice cream? Enjoy a glass of white, chocolate or strawberry milk.
Special Grand Opening treat:
Caramel Cow Crunch Long John donut layered with Hildebrand vanilla soft-serve and covered with warm caramel drizzle and crunchy caramel on top!