DU QUOIN — For Tony King, a day at the Du Quoin State Fair is just another day at the office.
King is part of King’s Food Service, a family-owned company in Herrin that offers mobile concessions, catering, event design, site management, consulting, coordinating event personnel, food and beverage sales and services, electrical requirements and more.
When asked what the family business is, King has two replies.
“The easy answer is we sell corn dogs and salt water taffy for a living," King said, "but the hard answer is — how long do you have?”
The King family owns and operates five different corporations, including event planning (KFS Events), a sign shop, Chittyville Mini Warehouses and Sutter’s State Fair Taffy. They employ about 15 people full-time, all year, plus others during the fair season.
“My dad started in 1986 with a baby blue trailer selling corn dogs and lemon shake-ups,” King said. “We’ve managed to create careers for a lot of people.”
Tony’s parents, Frank and Vickie; his wife, Krista; and sister, Tabatha, are all part of the business. His youngest sister, Taylor, helps out when needed, but has chosen another profession. Tony jokes that they love her anyway. His aunt owns Ms. Peggy’s, another concession business based in Herrin.
A typical year — if there is such a thing — starts with the Kentucky Derby festival and race and includes HerrinFesta Italiana, three county fairs in Indiana and one in Illinois, state fairs in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Texas, the SEMO District Fair and other events. They also cater private events like weddings.
King said the family has four stands at this year’s Du Quoin State Fair, including the popular State Fair Pork Tent and King’s Taters.
Although the list sounds massive, King said he is actually only gone from home for about a month for the state fairs. Other events are spread out and allow staff to return home between festivals and fairs.
The one factor that sometimes makes logistics interesting is the part of the business that provides storm services. King has spent time every day this week loading tents, tables, chairs and other supplies to head to the Houston area.
King explained that first, the National Guard clears the roads, then electrical workers come in to restore power. The Kings are hired by the electric companies to take care of their workers.
“We have worked every major hurricane since Katrina,” King said. “We work for the power companies. We literally drive in behind the power companies.”
The Kings basically build a tent city to house 1,000 people, providing tents, showers and food.
After Hurricane Katrina, they prepared 15,000 meals per day for 90 days. They cook two meals per day and prepare box lunches. They can be on site and set up in 48 hours.
“We just supply the utilities companies. They bring in outside workers. They can come to one central location and we handle all their needs,” King said.
Trailers will be positioned closer to Houston, while the Kings wait for the final go-ahead. It is one way the family can help with storm recovery.
Usually, King and his dad share duties of running concessions at Texas, allowing Tony to spend no more than week away from his three children, Mason, 9, Matilda, 5, and Merritt, 2, after school starts. The hurricane recovery may require him to be away a little longer.
“I was 2 when my dad started the business, so the fair life is all I know,” King said. “My sisters, my wife and I all went to college, but we really love this. It gets in your blood.”