They Demanded Their Corn Dogs and Deep-Fried Summer Favorites and the Minnesota State Fair Delivered

Social distanced drive-through buffet gives Minnesotans a taste of their beloved state fair amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

They Demanded Their Corn Dogs and Deep-Fried Summer Favorites and the Minnesota State Fair Delivered

Rich Anderson, of Jimmy’s Johnnys, provided needed sanitation to help the Minnesota State Fair salvage revenue with a food parade during the COVID-19 epidemic. (Photos by Brad Stauffer)


With the coronavirus and shutdowns in 2020, portable restroom operators lost most or all of their business for event rentals. On May 21, Rich Anderson, owner of Jimmy’s Johnnys in North Branch, Minnesota, learned about the cancellation of the Minnesota State Fair, his biggest event of the year. He was disappointed but not surprised. He was pleasantly surprised a couple months later when he was contacted by fair officials about providing restrooms for a scaled down replacement event. A limited number of cars would be allowed to drive through the fairgrounds for a Minnesota State Fair Food Parade, to be held on three long weekends (Thursday-Sunday) starting Aug. 20. 

Anderson rode with Cory Franzmeier, operations manager for the Minnesota State Fair, along the route to plan where to set up restrooms and sinks. A couple of weeks before the event Scott Engren, manager of special event deliveries for Jimmy’s Johnnys, transported and set up the restrooms. During the event, special event service technician Claire Morrisette serviced the restrooms. 


Jimmy’s Johnnys has come far since Anderson and his wife, Julie, purchased a 20-year-old portable restroom business with 250 units in 1999. Now they have 2,500 units and an average of 20 employees, making the company one of the largest in the Twin Cities. Initially located 50 miles north of downtown Minneapolis, Anderson grew the business intentionally by crossing Interstate 694 to add the metro market. 

“Our main business core is a five-county area (around the Twin Cities), doing events and construction,” he says. 

In addition to portable restrooms, Jimmy’s Johnnys offers luxury restroom and shower trailers, freshwater tanks, grease barrels and storage containers. The company turned the corner to compete with big companies in 2012 when it won the bid to provide 300 portable restrooms to Minnesota’s State Fair that traditionally runs for 12 days through Labor Day.

“We have a good relationship with Cory. He trusts us and wants our input of how many restrooms and services to do,” Anderson says. In 2019, Jimmy’s Johnnys provided service three times a day for 280 restrooms. Anderson and three service technicians and his two sons stayed in a bunkhouse-style camper on the fairgrounds for the entire fair. Two additional service technicians serviced restrooms outside the main fairgrounds.


As the second biggest state fair in the U.S. (Texas has the largest), Minnesota fair organizers decided they had to come up with some kind of alternative when the 2020 fair was canceled. They focused on food — one of the big reasons visitors attend the fair. Following the lead of other states, they came up with a plan to sell tickets ($20 per vehicle, up to five people, plus $3 facility and $2 service fees) for people to drive through and order food (for an additional cost) from 16 vendors. The fee included a free state fair insulated bag to hold the food that was purchased.

The number of tickets each day was limited, and people signed up for specific times that they could drive through the 1.5-mile route. Visitors used their own pens to fill orders that vendors took and delivered to people in their cars. Wearing masks was required for vendors and encouraged for visitors. Along the route, which could take up to two hours, there was live music, a trivia game, photo opportunities and other entertainment. At the end of the route, there was a parking lot where people could stop and eat the food they had purchased and shop for state fair merchandise.


“Initially Cory and I planned for just 26 restrooms, based on handling 1,200 cars from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They started with a lower number to ensure people didn’t have to wait hours in line,” Anderson notes. But before the event started they upped the number to 48 restrooms, including six ADA units. That proved to be a good thing as numbers increased to 1,600 cars each day.

Many of the PolyJohn PJ3 units were set up in three banks, at the beginning, middle and end of the route. Others were located near vendors, as were nine Satellite Industries Breeze hand-wash sinks and two Satellite 300-gallon wastewater holding tanks for a couple vendors. 

The restrooms were serviced using a 2018 Dodge 5500 MD Series 950 from Satellite Vacuum Trucks carrying a 600-gallon wastewater/300-gallon freshwater steel tank and a Masport pump.


Engren set up the restrooms a couple weeks early so fair organizers could adjust the route and put up barriers to prevent people from getting off track. 

“Claire went down the day before (the first food parade day) to inspect the route with the map,” Anderson says. “It was a good thing he did, because they moved some of the restrooms, and he said it was tight for the truck driving through the car lane.” 

With a phone call, Anderson learned that Morrisette should drive through the fire lane set up for auxiliary vehicles. He serviced all the units starting between 4 and 4:30 a.m., so he could finish by 8 a.m. Morrisette worked at the State Fair in past years and knew the procedure and where to unload at the fairground’s dump station and where to get water. For COVID-19 protocol, he hosed out units thoroughly and used industrial strength disinfectant. He was also on call and resupplied and moved restrooms as needed. 

Between using the fire lane and pumping when the fairgrounds were closed, the job went well, Anderson says. Planning for the right number of restrooms was also easier, because they knew exactly how many cars would go through each day.


After the food parade ended on Labor Day, Morrisette pumped the units to prepare them for transport. Engren planned to use a 16-unit Ameri-Can restroom transport trailer to move them back to the shop on Tuesday. Then Morrisette heard a rumor that a couple of more weekends of the food parade were planned for October. He mentioned it to Anderson’s wife Julie, and Anderson called Franzmeier. He confirmed it, so the restrooms were left in place. The extra days were a nice surprise, Anderson says. 

“We were super tickled that we got to do something with the fair this year. It’s become a tradition for us to do the fair. As small as it was, it’s probably our biggest event of the year,” Anderson says.  


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