Brothers Joe and Billy Barefoot have been serving foot-long hot dogs and other fare at the N.C. State Fair since they were in high school.
Their venture, dubbed Charlie Barefoot and Sons and named for their father, began selling hot dogs at the fair in 1949. The Barefoots grew up in the Cleveland community, and much of the family now lives in Clayton.
When Charlie Barefoot died in 2003, his sons took over, never missing a year at the fair, where they sell hot dogs from a yellow-and-white-striped tent.
“Some people say we’ve fed four generations here,” Billy Barefoot said.
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No restaurant is associated with the stand. The brothers, their six daughters and few friends come together each year to keep the tradition alive for 10 days.
The size of the hot dog stand suggests something much larger than a family operation. The large tent has booths like a restaurant, and the Barefoots churn out a couple of thousands of hot dogs during the fair’s run.
But it’s a small, close-knit group – everyone knew Charlie Barefoot or was related to him.
His granddaughter, Cynthia Barefoot of Clayton, is now the official “fry girl.” She works in the designated fry section, about five feet away from the grill where the meat sizzles.
Barefoot gets emotional when recalling her grandfather and his years at the fair. For the longest time, her grandmother was the “fry girl.” Now Cynthia Barefoot is in her second year.
“She’s the best fry person around,” said family friend Meg Pipkin, a loyal customer.
Funny enough, Cynthia and her sister, Stephanie Moore, said they never saw their grandfather eat a hot dog.
The women will inherit the hot dog tent from their fathers. They have three other sisters and a step-sister who will share in the enterprise with their husbands, as well as one brother, Michael Barefoot.
The women joked that it will basically be all-female operation.
Leroy and Lottie Hill of Ramseur have been eating at Charlie Barefoot’s for more than 25 years. Leroy always orders a hot dog; Lottie gets the Polish sausage.
For the husband and wife, 74, and 75, respectively, Charlie Barefoot’s has always been a place to rest after walking the fairgrounds. Lottie Hill said one year they brought friends from out of town, and they were so overwhelmed with the enormity of the fair, they had to stop by Charlie Barefoot’s to take a break.
It’s that kind of relationship with customers that has the brothers saying their hot dog stand will be around for years to come.
Also on the menu at this year’s State Fair was food from Ben Merrill, owner of Clayton’s Rockin’ Comet Diner.
Merrill serves no Rockin’ Comet fare at the fair. Instead, his booth is known for its butter-dipped corn-on-the-cob.
“I’ve been waiting all year for this corn,” said Jack Cornell of Raleigh.
Cornell comes to the fair multiple times just for the corn-on-the-cob, and he quickly devours it.
Another Clayton resident, Samantha Nadeau, didn’t sell any food at the fare, but her baking skills won first place in a cooking contest sponsored by the N.C. Apple Growers Association. Nadeau’s caramel-apple pie cupcakes earned her $200.
This was her first year entering a food competition.
“I wake up in the middle of the night and come up with ideas for what to put in the cupcakes, and this was one of them,” Nadeau said.
Glazed apples oozed out of the cupcakes, making them look much like a jelly-filled doughnut.
By day, Tim Smith of Clayton is a computer programmer, but in his spare time, he makes chairs by hand. For this year’s fair, he took two weeks of vacation to sell his handiwork and demonstrate his craft in the Village of Yesteryear.
The technique, “caning,” is a combination of woodworking and weaving, and it makes for a sturdy seat. Smith fashions many of the legs for his chairs from old tobacco sticks.
Handiwork and crafting run in his family. His grandfather, Clinton Boyette, lived in Archer Lodge, where he taught his grandson how to farm tobacco and work with tools.
“He showed me the sense of community and craftsmanship,” Smith said.
Smith was an apprentice to Bill Williamson of Clayton in the Village before opening his own booth.