Wagon Wheel Express owners Sherry and Keith Hess have a busy few weeks ahead of them as the family works at their food trailer at the Kansas State Fair, starting Friday, and their restaurant undergoes some remodeling.
The Hesses have sold concessions at the fair across from the 4-H exhibit building for seven years, and won several awards for their fresh squeezed lemonades and limeades.
“We were voted best lemonade for six of the seven years we’ve sold at the fair, and every year the governor stands in line for a lemonade,” Sherry Hess said. “We’ve been voted best lemonade by the Wichita Eagle, and this year were selected for best-of-the-best by the fair board for our cherry limeade.”
Best-of-the-best is where vendors are picked by the fair board to present one food or drink item to fair representatives and media on the first day of the fair.
“This is a first for us, and we’re really excited,” Sherry Hess said.
Hess said they waited for 17 years to get a spot at the state fair.
“It’s the biggest show of the year for vendors, so everyone wants a spot,” she said. “We do more business during those two weeks than we will in a month at the restaurant.”
The family runs the food trailer with help of their daughters and several other friends and family members.
“We always have four people working and usually eight to 10 people on the weekends,” she said. “The girls see it like a mini vacation, and, every year after the fair we say ‘This is it! We’re selling it,’ but we never do because it is so much fun. It would be weird not being there.”
Hess said she and Keith will work every day of the two week fair, and when they come home prepare the restaurant for its grand reopening projected for the beginning of October.
Wagon Wheel is undergoing some remodeling, including an expansion that will double the kitchen space and add an office and break room. Wagon Wheel has been closed since the owners’ 18-year-old daughter, Karly, had open-heart surgery in July.
The Hesses were planning to complete improvements during time off for Karly’s recovery, but heavy rains caused water damage inside the restaurant.
“We walked in and all the ceiling tiles had fallen down,” Sherry Hess said. “Water was coming in under the front door.”
Hess said they are having the roof redone and are contacting contractors for the addition. She said the concrete pad for the expansion will be laid next week. They have been shopping around for some new pieces of kitchen equipment.
“We need to do some updating,” she said. “We found a soft-serve ice cream machine, and a larger broiler.”
Hess said they are excited to add new things to the menu, expand their take out business, and have a larger space to work in.
“I’d like to start doing dinner specials,” she said. “Right now there isn’t the room. We’re a close family, but at work we’re constantly stepping all over each other because there isn’t enough space.”
Hess has plans to add baked sweets to the menu.
“I’m excited about all the changes,” she said. “It would be hard to just sit and wait for it all to be done, but the fair will keep us occupied.”