Aug 28, 2012 • By

Summer vacation at the state fair

For several days each summer, General Mills food scientist Jonathan Griebel trades his day job for the sights, sounds and smells of the Minnesota State Fair.

Jonathan takes vacation from General Mills to manage The China Town Diner, which has been serving hungry fair-goers since 1965.

Proceeds from China Town Diner benefit a summer camp – Camp Omega – and most of the diner’s staff, including Jonathan, volunteer their time.

For readers of A Taste of General Mills who don’t hail from Minnesota, our state fair is the second largest in the U.S. and the largest 12-Day event in North America. There are more than 300 different food concessions at the Minnesota State Fair – all vying for business from the 1.8 million annual visitors.

Egg Roll on a Stick, Teriyaki Ostrich, and Pot Stickers are The China Town Diner’s best-selling menu items. A new gluten-free item – Korean BBQ Beef wraps – makes its debut this year in response to growing demand for gluten-free foods at the fair.

We caught up with Jonathan last Friday before the lunch rush to hear more about those items, his experience at the fair and how it relates to his job at General Mills.

He draws on his past experience as a chef and his current job as a developer for the Frozen Foods division of General Mills to create a compelling menu, keep food fresh, safe and hot, and to draw traffic to the booth.

Jonathan also received a little help from his General Mills colleagues when redesigning the menu last year. General Mills Photos Studios photographers and food stylists volunteered their time through an internal program called “Good Works” to create appetizing new photos for the menu.

He credits his parents as the inspiration for his commitment to volunteerism:

“My dad was a preacher and both of my parents taught me early on the value of service to your community,” he says.

Do you spend your vacation time as a volunteer? Tell us about it.

Editor’s note: The China Town Diner is located in the northeast corner of the Food Building at the Minnesota State Fair. The fair runs through Sept. 3, 2012.

When visiting The China Town Diner, we learned a fun piece of General Mills trivia related to the food stand. It has a connection to Totino’s Pizza Rolls. Jeno Paulucci, whose company invented and launched Jeno’s pizza rolls, donated the original building for The China Town Diner in 1965. Paulucci built the restaurant for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, from which he served his Chun King line of Chinese food.

Following the World’s Fair, Paulucci moved the building back to Minnesota and donated it to the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, which formed Camp Omega and opened the restaurant at the Minnesota State Fair to support it. In 1985, Paulucci sold his pizza and pizza rolls businesses to Pillsbury. In 1995, Pillsbury re-branded the pizza rolls as Totino’s Pizza Rolls.