'Healthy doesn't work' when it comes to Stock Show grub

Posted Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- At the Stock Show, you can always find cowboys, kids, cows and chickens by the trailer load. There's another tradition with a menu that rarely changes -- the chow.

When the crowds here queue up for grub, they're usually looking for the familiar standbys they liked last year or 20 years and 20 pounds ago.

Unlike the Texas State Fair, where new palate-bending fried concoctions are trotted out every year, the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo sticks to the tried-and-true rib-stickers like barbecue, the perennial top seller, said Steve Coburn, whose family business, Coburn's Catering, has been serving up smoked meats and managing food concessions at the show since 1946.

"This place is extremely traditional; there are very little changes," he said. "People know what we have and they remember where everything is and go back. If something does good the first year, it will do even better the second."

In this arena, guilty pleasures like 1,000-calorie cinnamon rolls and corn dogs are two of the standards.

"Healthy doesn't work. I'm serious, it doesn't work," Coburn, 44, said with a laugh. "We tried Chinese food a few years ago and after three days, they packed up and left in the middle of the night."

Proof of that less-than-healthy adage is that after 32 years of baking 8,000 to 10,000 cinnamon rolls each Stock Show run, Stoney Humphries is kicking up the calorie count at his four Crown Cinnamon Roll stands with a new sidekick: a bacon version called the Texas Squealer.

But don't get in a rush, he said, it may take a few days to get the Squealer going.

"If you're counting calories, you can't have a cinnamon roll," is the simple truth behind Humphries' belt-busting rolls.

Texans seem to agree. Humphries lives in California but he spends seven months of the year based in White Settlement since he also works the Houston Stock Show, the State Fair and other events at the Will Rogers Memorial Center.

There's scant turnover among the 16 concession stands scattered around the Will Rogers complex, not counting the snack vendors on the midway and Reatta's three upscale venues, and when a spot opens, Coburn looks for something unique to add to the mix.

"I'm looking for guys who do one thing. If they do one thing they are going to do it better than anyone else," he said.

This year's two newcomers fit that bill -- Nothing Bundt Cakes and BrouHaha: It's All About the Bacon.

Coburn is also subbing out a pulled-pork sandwich at one of his stands with a sliced pork tenderloin version. He'll also be adding "Dirt-Side Service by Coburn's" for box-seat holders at the rodeos.

The Coburns, who now include three generations, are always searching for the next big bite.

"Every few years we go to the State Fair and see what's selling. We call it market research; we see what's hot. We do the same thing in Houston every year to make sure we're not missing anything," he said.

Bacon a big hit

Bacon appears to be the current trend.

Michael Smith's BrouHaha started by accident four years ago when the College Station resident opened a coffee, tea and pastry stand at a Houston-area Renaissance Fair but he couldn't get the dough to work outside in the cold.

"I had to figure out something to do in a hurry and I had bacon, sausage, and chicken so I came up different recopies with bacon and they were a big hit," said Smith, who got out of the restaurant business in the 1980s because it "nearly killed" him. Last year, he retired from his Homeland Security job to devote all his time to the festival circuit.

Among his offerings are candied bacon bits, chocolate-covered bacon, chicken tenders wrapped in bacon, shrimp stuffed with cream cheese, jalapeño and apple wrapped in sausage and bacon and then deep-fried.

The Stock Show will be another version of Christmas for bakers at the Nothing Bundt Cakes store at 4603 Camp Bowie Blvd. in Fort Worth, co-owner Kathy Bonds said.

"For the Stock Show, we're kind of taking what we sell in the store and we think we'll triple that amount," she said, adding that the booth will sell 4-inch $4 personal cakes that are the store's top sellers: chocolate-chocolate chip, red velvet, white chocolate-raspberry and pecan praline.

"We're pretty excited. We've doubled our back-of-the-house staff for the next few weeks so we have plenty of people baking and frosting cakes," Bonds said.

Coburn won’t divulge annual food sales (vendors pay a portion of their sales as rent) but he knows what the sales are going to be.

“I’ve got it tracked for the last 10 years. Sometimes it’s case-for-case depending on the year. Last year, everything was off the charts,” he said.

And like Stock Show attendance, food sales go hand in hand with one key ingredient:

“It’s all weather-related.”

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981

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