British Columbia

PNE extends mini-doughnut drive-thru due to overwhelming demand

With this year's Pacific National Exhibition cancelled, the fair tried something new to deliver warm bags of sugary fried dough, and support the concessionaires who have lost their income.

More than 4,000 orders placed by customers who waited in long lines to support the fair

A worker in a mask delivers one of more than 4,000 orders of mini-doughnuts on a tray to a waiting car. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

When the three-day event was announced, Laura Ballance says the PNE wasn't sure if anyone would show up to wait in line in their cars for a few dozen mini-doughnuts.

But the mini-doughnut is, as Ballance puts it, the "monster of the fair food circuit," and a part of some families' summer tradition at the Pacific National Exhibition, which is cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It turns out people did show up, placing more than 4,000 orders and in some cases waiting in line for hours for a physically-distanced delivery on a tray.

"The response has been quite honestly very humbling and overwhelming, not only for our concessionaires, but the love we've received from the people of the Lower Mainland and beyond for the PNE Fair has been absolutely overwhelming."

On Sunday, the drive-thru mini-doughnut sales were extended another day with permission from Vancouver Coastal Health, Ballance said. The PNE is planning more events through the summer with other food vendors.

Customers buy mini-doughnuts at the drive-thru event at the PNE in Vancouver on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Hour-plus waits

Four concession stands are selling doughnuts at the event, including Tin Lizzy Donuts, CinCity Donuts, PNE Fundunkers and Those Little Donuts, who travelled from the Prairies to participate, said Ballance.

Customers have to purchase a ticket in advance, which gets them either two dozen doughnuts for $20, with six from each vendor, or a four-dozen Family Pack for $35, along with two complimentary tickets to the 2021 PNE Fair. Only people in vehicles are allowed — no cyclists or pedestrians.

On Saturday, the wait grew so long there wasn't room for all the vehicles on the fairgrounds, and the lineup spilled onto East Hastings Street, with reports of some people waiting for two hours.

While Ballance said they had few complaints, some people did give up on the long line and want the PNE to organize things differently.

Meanwhile, others were disappointed the park — and nearby streets — were taken over by an event only people in cars could attend. 

Ballance said as a result of Saturday waits, they limited ticket sales on Sunday and arranged for the additional day on Monday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., to accommodate demand.

"It came about very quickly ... we did this not knowing if anybody would show up," she said.

CinCity Donuts was one of four vendors providing mini-doughnuts for the event, along with Tin Lizzy Donuts, PNE Fundunkers and Those Little Donuts. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vendors 'very anxious and very thankful'

Besides the warm, sugary hit of fried dough, the event provided income for four small businesses running the concession stands, and another dozen fair employees who have been temporarily laid off as a result of the fair's cancellation, said Ballance.

"It was hard to hold back the tears at points as people said they drove hours to support us," Jason Au of Tin Lizzy Concessions said in a statement.

Ballance said the vendors were "all very anxious and very thankful" for the support. For some, this could be the only weekend of the year they have sales due to widespread COVID-19 cancellations.

The PNE plans to do more similar events, with different food vendors, through the summer, but Ballance didn't have details on dates, or what kind of food would be fried.

Customers bought tickets in advance and rolled up to receive their bags of doughnuts, with some waiting an hour or two and the lineup spilling onto East Hastings Street. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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