by Joni Astrup
For 12 years, Arlyce Morrell of Elk River and a team of volunteers have been selling key lime pie bars at the Minnesota State Fair.
When the fair opens Aug. 21 for a 12-day run, they’ll be back once again in their booth at the base of the Sky Ride, near the food building and the bandshell. They will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
The key lime pie bars are slices of key lime pie with a graham cracker crust, dipped in dark chocolate. They are served on a stick and sell for $4.50.
They also sell strawberry key lime pie bars dipped in white chocolate and sorbet served in natural shells like pineapples, coconuts or oranges. Bottled water is sold as well.
What makes this operation distinct is every dime they make goes to charity.
One of the benefactors is New Life Family Services, which has crisis pregnancy centers. Arlyce and her husband, Larry, did foster care for New Life Family Services for 18 years. The Morrells cared for newborns until they could go home to their birth family or be placed with an adoptive family. Between 1981 and 1998, Arlyce said they cared for about 65 babies.
The cause is near and dear to their hearts, and the State Fair food booth helps generate funding for the organization.
Volunteers who work at the booth — family and friends — also keep track of their hours and choose where they would like to donate the fruits of their labor. Charities have run the gamut from the chapel at the State Fair to Teen Challenge, which helps people kick substance abuse addictions.
For the Morrells, the operation has been a family effort. Their two daughters, four sons and 24 grandchildren have all been involved in some way. They even had a girl who had been one of their foster babies help out at the State Fair booth.
Raising money for New Life Family Services has been going on for years. Before the key lime pie booth, for 14 years Arlyce and five other women made and served American Indian fry bread tacos at venues across the state, from county fairs to the Taste of Minnesota.
It was while she and Larry were in Florida that they came upon the idea of key lime pie on a stick.
They were in Key West and stopped for a snack. Larry ordered a key lime pie bar.
Arlyce said they had prayed for something to sell at the State Fair to raise money for the crisis pregnancy centers, and felt God was telling them this was it.
For two years she sold them in conjunction with the fry bread tacos at fairs and other events. The key lime pie bars came into their own after being accepted as a State Fair vendor stand a dozen years ago.
Arlyce said they did very well that first year at the State Fair. They earned a five-star rating and were featured on all four Twin Cities television stations.
They were told to expect their business to drop in half the second year after the novelty of the debut, and found that to be the case. But it has been building over the years, and Arlyce said the booth’s popularity continues to grow.
The key lime pie bars come from Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe — the same business that produced the bar sampled by Larry all those years ago. The business has a production facility in DeLand, Florida, where each pie bar is hand-dipped and packaged for shipment.
Arlyce said she has visited the facility several times and been impressed by the operation.
“It’s very clean, very neat, very precise. They are wonderful people to work with.”
Shortly before the State Fair opens, the pie bars are shipped to a cold storage facility in St. Paul. For the duration of the State Fair, the Morrells park a trailer with freezers full of the pie bars on the State Fair’s Machinery Hill. From there the bars are transported by wagon to the concession stand as needed. The trailer is restocked from the storage facility in St. Paul two or three times during the fair’s run.
Arlyce said they have seen many repeat customers over the years and had many interesting experiences. One, however, stands out.
She was working in the booth when a woman ordered pineapple sorbet. Arlyce noticed she and her husband were eating it very slowly and wondered if it wasn’t what they really wanted, so she went over and talked to them.
She learned the man was dying of cancer, and he and his wife had come to the State Fair from Bemidji for one last time. He’d had difficulty eating, but told her the sorbet tasted wonderful. Arlyce ending up packing some in her cooler and sending it home with them. A few days later, they sent her an angel that she still displays in her kitchen window. At Christmas, she received a card with the man’s obituary. His wife wrote that her husband regained consciousness shortly before he died and asked for some of the State Fair pineapple sorbet. She thawed the last container of it and fed it to him with an eye dropper. It was the last thing he ate before dying.
Arlyce said she sees the State Fair booth as a way to minister to people, and the man with cancer is an example of that.
“It’s a God thing,” she said.
Fast facts about the Minnesota State Fair
•The first Minnesota State Fair was held in 1859.
•The Minnesota State Fair has been held in its present location (mid-way between Minneapolis and St. Paul) since 1885. The fairgrounds covers 320 acres.
•The Minnesota State Fair is the largest 12-day event in North America, attracting nearly 1.8 million visitors annually.
•Minnesota’s State Fair is the the second largest State Fair in the country.
• The fair’s daily attendance record was set on a Sunday in 2013 when 236,197 people visited.
•Notable events in history that took place at the Minnesota State Fair include: the first airplane flight in Minnesota history (1910); legendary pacer horse Dan Patch set the world harness racing record at the Grandstand (1906); and John Phillip Sousa composed “Minnesota March” and performed it at the fair (1927).
•More than 450 foods are available at 300 food concessions at the State Fair.
•There are more than 60 foods on a stick available throughout the fairgrounds including deep-fried candy bars, hot dish, spaghetti and meatballs, walleye and pork chops and the key lime pie.
Source: Minnesota State Fair
If you go
What: Minnesota State Fair
When: Aut. 21-Sept. 1
Tickets: Pre-fair discount admission tickets, ride/game tickets and Blue Ribbon Bargain Books may be purchased at Twin Cities Cub Foods stores, including in Elk River and Rogers. They are available through Aug. 20, while supplies last.