Josey Nevins Mayes was born Oct. 14, 1999, in the middle of the State Fair of Texas. Her tired, swollen mother was at the fair that morning, ready to work, when she realized it was time to go to the hospital. She’d already waited five days longer than doctors suggested so she wouldn’t miss the high-traffic sales from Texas-OU weekend.
For all 22 years of Mayes’ life, one of her birthday traditions was to visit Fair Park, where four generations of State Fair family members have worked since 1949.
“Grandpa would stick a candle in anything, from a hamburger to a Nutty Bar to a corny dog,” says Josey’s mother Tami Jo Nevins-Mayes.
This year, when Josey turns 23, the atmosphere will be different: Josey is the boss. After graduating from Oklahoma State University in July 2022 with a double major in marketing and entrepreneurship, she took on a partner role with her family’s State Fair concession business, where they operate nine stands selling hamburgers, hot dogs and the like. Her mom, Tami Jo, is far from retired, but she can now lean on her youngest daughter to infuse some new creativity into the business.
Josey succeeded right away, winning a “best taste” trophy at the Big Tex Choice Awards for her fried charcuterie board and becoming the youngest concessionaire to do so. Perhaps a lifetime growing up as a carnival kid prepared her for this seriously competitive food fight, where the winning items tend to be equal parts preposterous and palatable.
Josey’s fried charcuterie board was inspired by her love for making meat-and-cheese boards for dinners with friends. She thought, as only a State Fair kid might, What if we fried all of this? The result is diced mozzarella, salami, prosciutto and green apples, tossed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil, stuffed in a wonton wrapper, deep-fried, and topped with cold goat cheese and Mike’s Hot Honey.
It was delicious, she recalls. And then Josey won.
Overnight, she realized she needed to source, slice, wrap and freeze 60,000 pieces of fried charcuterie. That’d get her through the first week of the 24-day State Fair. Her goal is to sell 50,000 orders of fried charcuterie; with three per order, she’d need 150,000 pieces.
Josey called Abel Gonzales, who’s been called Fried Jesus for his perplexing inventions at the State Fair like fried butter and fried Coke. Gonzales will be serving his own concessions at the fair, like fried PB&Js, fried cookie dough and a new fried creation called the Doh-Muff, a yeast doughnut coated in banana nut muffin batter and fried, then stuffed with Bavarian cream.
He’s busy already, with a production team preparing thousands of desserts at his restaurant, AG Texican. But if anybody could help Josey, it would be Fried Jesus.
“There’s no one we’d trust more than Abel,” Josey says.
Gonzales laughs: He’s been at the State Fair for 20 years, and after his share of pie-in-the-sky ideas, he doesn’t take as many fried-food risks as he used to. His new client Josey doesn’t think that way.
“Fried charcuterie is a young person’s idea,” Gonzales says. “Me? I could think of a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t do something. But she didn’t doubt it.”
Gonzales and his team have spent three and a half weeks sourcing, slicing, wrapping and freezing pieces of fried charcuterie. Buying prosciutto and salami have consumed Gonzales’ days.
“There’s not one place where you can walk in and say, ‘Can I have 100 pounds of prosciutto?’ You say, ‘How much will you give me?’ And then I’ll go find the rest,” he says. Gonzales is known, among other concessionaires, as the guy who knows the grocery store managers across North Texas.
“I’ve cleaned out every H Mart, all over town, for wonton wrappers,” he says.
Gonzales has been hooked on the adrenaline of the State Fair since 2005, when he won the first year of the Big Tex Choice Awards for his fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich. His goal that year was to sell 3,000 total, but those sold in the first week.
“It was crazy,” he recalls: “My aunts, all their sisters, my mom, my nieces, my nephew ... they all showed up in the middle of the night to make sandwiches.” He sold about 25,000 fried PBJ&B sandwiches in 2005, he recalls.
“I was hooked.”
In the moments leading up to the fair, Josey is busy setting up ice cream booths and soda fountains while Gonzales and his team do their thing, pre-making each triangular-shaped pouch. Gonzales’ work might make Josey’s fried charcuterie a best-seller at the State Fair this year. It’s already getting buzz.
Josey seems a little shocked by it all. Her mom is not.
“I’ve teared up, many times, thinking about how well she did here,” Tami Jo says.
Fried charcuterie costs 16 coupons, or $16, and will be sold at three of the Nevins family’s stands inside the State Fair of Texas: at G5, on the backside of Big Tex; at N7, by gate 7 of the Cotton Bowl; and N28, near the Chevy Main Stage.
The State Fair of Texas runs Sept. 30, 2022 through Oct. 23, 2022.