A few minutes before the gates opened at the Stanislaus County Fair the activity inside the famous VFW Auxiliary 5059 burger stand was relatively quiet. It wouldn't be that way for most of the night.
“It’s the calm before the storm,” said VFW Auxiliary President Rebecca Sandoval.
It didn’t take long after the gates had opened and people began streaming in for the orders for burgers to start coming in.
Jeff Kruthoff and Rob Todd, both with the Arrowhead Club, took advantage of the quiet to get their orders in for double burgers, their first of the night, but not their last.
“We always come here and get our burgers first, then we go to the Arrowhead Club booth and do our shift there,” said Kruthoff. “When we’re finished there we usually walk around a bit and then end our night with another round of burgers.
“I wish they had a stand outside the fair that was open all year long,” Kruthoff said.
“This is the place to come at the fair,” said Todd.
The appeal of the VFW Auxiliary’s burger has reached legendary status among fair-goers. Sandoval credits it to the use of high-quality products and a few savvy practices.
“We use a special meat blend of meat to fat ratio and a special seasoning,” Sandoval said. “Plus, it’s 100 percent made to order. We don’t cook anything ahead of time and wrap it in foil or put it under a warmer. It’s made when people come up and order it.”
The VFW Auxiliary booth began operating at the fair about 65 years ago, when they sold watermelon slices.
The booth is such a popular attraction that when the club announced to fair CEO Matt Crawford that they were having the booth they had used for the last 40 years torn down, he expressed some apprehension that the replacement might not be ready in time for the fair.
“He was a little hesitant and didn’t think we would be able to get it done, but I told him not to worry that it would be ready,” Sandoval said.
The Auxiliary is operating out of a brand new booth this year that is 6 feet larger than the previous one. The expansion, plus the addition of a hood has allowed for the club to add two new items to their menu: Freedom Fries and Warrior Fries.
“The Warrior Fries have two slices of American cheese, a scoop of our Auxiliary chili, and a splash of secret sauce,” Sandoval said.
The completion of the booth in time for the fair was made possible through a bevy of work from construction and contracting companies who learned of the club’s need and began volunteering their help.
“All the companies donated time, materials and knowledge,” Sandoval said. “It took about four and a half months from tear down to competition.”
The 10-day run at the fair makes up the majority of the Auxiliary’s fundraising, so being able to keep the construction costs down was essential to them. In all about 80 percent of the cost of the new booth and equipment was donated, Sandoval said.
The VFW Auxiliary is one of the nation’s oldest veterans’ service organizations with members primarily comprised of relatives of those who have served in overseas combat. There are more than 470,000 members in almost 3,800 posts around the country who volunteer countless hours and fundraise to benefit veterans, military service personnel and their families.
Acme Electric President Buster Lucas said his reason for helping with the new booth project all boiled down to one reason.
“It’s for the veterans,” Lucas said. “My father was a veteran, my brother was a veteran, and three of my employees are veterans so this seemed like the right thing to do.”