September 5, 2021
The Blue Barn at the Minnesota State Fair has served up thousands, if not millions, of boatloads of delicious food since it was built 8 years ago. Pierogies, French Toast Bites topped with Ice Cream and Pop Rocks, and Corn Fritz are just a few of the items on the menu that are served up in what staff call “boats.”
But those boats, as simple as they are, used to be a bit of a headache.
“We used to have just flat sheets of these liners in a pack and believe it or not, it gets really windy out here and they would blow all over the place and it would slow us down in our production. Not to mention, we were chasing these things all over and picking them up,” said Stephanie Shimp, one of the owners of the Blue Barn.
The few sections spent assembling the boats also added on to the wait time for customers.
“A little bit of a line is okay at the Fair but no one wants to wait 45 minutes for pierogies or corn fritters,” said Shimp.
HELP FROM OPPORTUNITY PARTNERS
So she reached out to Opportunity Partners, which has locations in Minnetonka and Plymouth. The nonprofit coordinates work opportunities for people with disabilities, and workers assembled the boats ahead of the Fair.
“The boat is ready to go, versus before we had to fold the paper and put it in the boat and it slowed down the process,” said Shimp. “It really helps our flow and helps our friends at Opportunity Partners. too.”
Opportunity Partners CEO Bill Schultz says this partnership has been successful for both entities.
“This year we did 95,000 of these pieces of paper into the dishes and over 100 people with disabilities worked on the project. We did it in 1.5 weeks,” said Schultz. “Stephanie has been a terrific partner and generous with praise with how helpful we’ve been with the process and serving people efficiently and getting those lines down at the State Fair.”