Family's prized lemon drinks add zest to Indiana State Fair

August 7, 2006

Veteran vendor Beverly Morgan insists the trick is all in the wrist.

"The lemons have to dance," she said.

Sure, some of her peers "mix" the drinks just enough to combine the ingredients, but Beverly said those aren't really shake-ups-just lemonade.

After more than 35 years of shaking it like a Polaroid picture, the 70-year-old knows a thing or two about the tasty, sometimes tart treat.

Beverly and her husband Allen opened their first lemon shake-up stand at the Marion County Fair in 1970, when they were both teachers looking for some summer income. It went so well, they opened a stand at the Indiana State Fair.

And they'll be back there this week, when the fair kicks off its 150th year of midway rides and corn dogs.

Beverly remembers her first state fair as a vendor like it was yesterday. Corn dogs cost 50 cents, lemon shake-ups cost a quarter, and she used a handheld juicer to work her magic.

Since then, the Indianapolis-based business--now called Brookes Concessions after the Morgans' granddaughter--has grown in size and scope, giving fair-goers statewide a taste of what it's selling.

The Morgans operate four stands at the state fair alone, selling their prized lemon shake-ups across from the administration building, in front of the cattle barn. The citrus satisfiers, which cost $3 or $5 depending on size, remain their best-selling item.

Brookes Concessions usually sells about 5,000 shake-ups during the 12-day state fair, Beverly said, so they need plenty of lemons-8,250 of them, to be exact.

Over the years, the Morgans have added to their product selections, offering elephant ears, nachos, sausages, pizza, pork tenderloin and other yummy items.

Whodathunkit?

Beverly sure never did, but somehow the Morgans' extracurricular activity turned into a family business. About 10 years ago, Beverly and Allen turned the reins over to their son, Brent. The little boy who had grown up around corn dogs and shake-ups had become the boss.

Now 49, Brent Morgan travels the state from April to October, selling fair favorites. His parents still help out at the local events when they can.

"I'm used to it now," Brent said. "I was an accountant and worked behind a desk. That's just not me."

It takes about two days to prepare the trailers for the fair. During the events, workers usually arrive an hour or so before the gates open to set up the booths and prepare the food.

The shake-up stand is relatively easy to set up, since it sells only a few non-beverage items. But on a recent Friday afternoon at the Marion County Fair, the elder Morgans were hard at work prepping the pork tenderloin stand--heating water for the nacho cheese, slicing tomatoes for the sandwiches and preparing lemons for the shake-ups.

Good thing they did.

The first customer that day ordered five shake-ups, a corn dog and two tenderloin sandwiches. And that was just the beginning. Once the fair opens, whenever the line isn't five people deep, workers stay busy stocking up for the next rush.

A typical day at the Indiana State Fair starts at 8 a.m. and doesn't end until midnight, so Brent has two shifts of employees. He, his wife, daughters and parents also work during the fair.

The hardest part of running a concession stand isn't staying on the road during the summer months, tight working conditions of the trailer, or the heat from the fryers, he said: It's finding others who are willing to bear it.

Brookes used to hire high school students almost exclusively, but now "they don't wanna do nothing," Brent said. The best excuse he's heard so far--a worker who couldn't come in because he was going on a fishing trip with his grandpa.

Brent congratulated the employee on his originality and wished him good luck.

"I mean really ... how many times can their grandma die?" he laughed.

After decades on the fair scene, Brent's learned to not let things like a few raindrops or bolts of lightning get to him.

Like the weather, sales also can run hot and cold. Thursdays usually aren't busy because "no one has any money," he said. Fridays, on the other hand, tend to have a steady flow of customers since that's payday for many fair-goers.

Although Brookes Concessions has tried offering some trendy--usually fried--fair foods over the years, none lasted long. Brent said most of the new products at the fair, like fried Oreos or Snicker's candy bars, are "novelty items" that are exciting for a while and then disappear.

Indeed, the shake-up stand remains Brookes' largest and most popular. Indianapolis Monthly even named the Morgans' version the best lemon shake-up at the state fair a few years ago.

Beverly said the family takes pride in its work, so it's nice to be honored.

"It's a family affair," Beverly said. "We're not the Brady Brunch, we're the Morgan bunch."

The Morgans declined to say how much they average in sales each year. Still, who stays in business for 37 years without turning a profit?

Perhaps it's the simplicity of Brookes Concessions that make it a fair favorite.

Take the corn dog: "A hot dog on a stick with a free toothpick," Brent enthused. "Get 'em while they're hot and you'll like 'em a lot."

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