PJ’s Concessions a 30-Year Staple at Wisconsin Fairs and Festivals

PJ's Concessions photo

Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) For nearly 30 years, John Anderson has offered his staple cheese curds and a mouth-watering menu at fairs and festivals around the state as PJ’s Concessions.

Operating three stands he built from scratch, today John runs the business as a family affair with wife Penny and grown children Jake and Tiffany.

Anderson purchased his first concession stand at age 21 plus $600 worth of food and set up at the Cornell fair.

“I was worried,” he recalled. “What if we didn’t sell it?”

But that first event was a success, and by next summer Anderson was booked solid from Memorial Day to September, selling fresh-battered cheese curds, pretzels, jalapeno poppers, hot beef plates, and Polish sausage. Within a few years, he developed a good route and changed up his menu, dropping the meat and adding on deep-fried mushrooms and cauliflower, both of which are still staples and popular as combo options.

Early on, he was assisted by his two young children who ran the window and made lemonade while he cooked the orders. To avoid missing carnivals with conflicting dates, John built a second 12-foot trailer that could be run by his sisters, nieces and nephews. For the most part, he sticks to events in the state except for one memorable trip to an Oklahoma music festival.

“Everyone kept asking — what’s cheese curds?” he said. “I spent the whole time explaining what they were!” Though, he noted, “They loved them when they had them.”

As concession stands started becoming flashier in the ‘90s, he met a visitor from North Carolina who offered to sell a trailer that he said “just needed cleaning up.” John decided to drive down and take a look.

“It was the biggest pile of junk I’d ever seen,” he said. “I thought about backing out.”

The 18-foot trailer luckily survived the journey back home to Wisconsin. John tore down the entire trailer and rebuilt it, painted it, and decorated it with flags he sewed himself. Then in 2000 and 2001, he built two more trailers at a more manageable 16 feet with lower serving windows, but still uses the first one once or twice a year.

John Anderson with son, Jake.

His son Jake started running stands by himself as a teenager and once he turned 16, was driving the trailer by himself and never had any trouble. Now 30, Jake has continued in his father’s footsteps and looks forward to carrying on the family business.

 

Looking back, John is proud of the operation his family built up together. “All my blood, sweat, and tears went into this business for all these years,” he said.

PJ’s Concessions sets itself apart by buying fresh-cut ingredients instead of pre-boxed and the family makes weekly drives to Minneapolis from home base in Lake Hallie to get the best products. The cheese curds are sourced from LaGrander’s Hillside Dairy in Stanley, a family-owned company which also supplies cheese curds for Culver’s.

The family kicks off each season at Chocolate Fest in Burlington and finishes in September, serving 4-500 people an hour during busy times. One of the final stops for PJ’s Concessions was always the Central Wisconsin State Fair, where they were always the first to set up and the last to leave.

Tiffany

Though it was a longtime food vendor at the event, fair management decided not to extend a contract this year. Fans can still get their PJ’s fix at Sturgeon Fest in Jim Falls, Game Fest in Chippewa Falls, and Food Fest in Lake Hallie.

But as always, the family will keep busy in the off-season. Fulfilling a long-held idea, John will embark on a new food venture by opening Anderson’s Chic-N-Fish Takeout in Chippewa Falls. The business will be ready to open sometime late this fall.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for the unmissable stand at your favorite festivals and events around Wisconsin next summer. Follow PJ’s Concessions on Facebook.

Kaylin S
Author: Kaylin S

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