A beloved NC State Fair staple - a booth operating for more than 100 years - is exiting the annual fair for good, and taking its iconic country ham biscuits with it.
The booth operated through a partnership of First United Methodist Church of Cary and White Plains United Methodist Church will not return to the fair, the Rev. Rob Phillips of White Plains confirmed to The News & Observer on Monday,
The reason for the decision: a lack of staffing exacerbated by COVID-19.
"The reality is that for many members of both churches, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect their lives in many ways," Phillips said in an email to The N&O. "After prayerful consideration it was determined that we simply did not have enough support from the members of both churches to staff the hundreds of volunteer hours that the fair booth entails."
Phillips told The N&O last year that in a normal year (pre-COVID), it takes about 100 volunteers each day to cook and serve food, man cash registers and clean up at the end of the night.
Booth's profits funded missions
The profits from the booth went to ministries and missions supported by both churches.
"I know that for many (including myself) in our congregation and community this is a sad decision, but we remain hopeful that God will open other doors for the church to show hospitality and continue the relationships and connections that the fair booth initiated."
The First United Methodist Church of Cary started serving food at the NC State Fair in 1916, making it the oldest vendor at the fair. It skipped last year to keep its workers safe amid COVID-19 concerns.
The space was instead used to administer COVID vaccines.
The white booth with bright green trim was one in a line of several connected buildings on the fairgrounds that offer indoor service and seating.
A story published in The News & Observer in 2015, when the church was about to start its 100th year at the fair, notes that church historian Bob Warner believes ham biscuits first appeared on the menu in the 1950s, when the minister's wife said she knew of someone who could provide some good country hams.