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At STATE FAIR: Popular restaurant notes 45th fair

By Staff | Aug 21, 2009

Steer 'N' Stein employee Ronald Robinson cooks the huge turkey legs that Iowa State Fair goers crave.

DES MOINES – When George Kranovich opened his food stand in 1964 at the Iowa State Fair, customers who dropped by his tent could enjoy a steak dinner for around $1.39, a beer for 50 cents and a new-fangled novelty known as a taco, which many people called a “tack-o.”

“No one knew what a taco was in those days, but they caught on,” said George’s son, Stan Kranovich, 50, who sold soda pop for a quarter when he started working at the fair at age 12.

The Steer ‘N’ Stein was a logical business opportunity for the Kranovich family, who ran restaurants and taps on the east side of Des Moines. With its prime location along the grand concourse, the Steer ‘N’ Stein has developed a loyal clientele through the years.

At the 2009 fair, crowds filled the restaurant at all hours of the day and evening, lured by hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwursts, turkey legs, cold beverages and a host of other favorite fare. It’s no wonder, since the business has been voted by the public as one of the best restaurants at the Iowa State Fair.

Rising from the ashes

The popular Steer 'N' Stein restaurant has been a fixture at the Iowa State Fair for 45 years.

Building the business, which has been housed in a permanent building at the fairgrounds since 1969, hasn’t always been easy. After a gas leak fueled a blaze at the restaurant in June of 1999, the Steer ‘N’ Stein lay in ruins. “It was a pretty devastating blow, because it was a total loss,” said Kranovich, who specializes in custom millwork and cabinetry for his full-time work.

Undeterred, Kranovich put his construction skills to use and recruited his family and friends to help rebuild the restaurant in 45 days, just in time for the first day of the state fair. Ironically, the fire proved to be good for business. “We had so much publicity on the news that we got our 15 minutes of fame,” Kranovich said.

Each year, Kranovich and his crew make improvements to the Steer ‘N’ Stein to keep the building functional for the employees and attractive to customers. Changes for 2009 include bright, colorful new signs, along with some new equipment in the kitchen. “I like to maintain it like a new building,” said Kranovich, who noted that it takes about two months to get everything ready for the fair. “There’s a lot of cleaning, dusting and painting, and you can’t do it all at the last minute.”

That includes being ready to go each morning during the fair. The restaurant, which opens between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. every day and operates until midnight, employs nearly 90 people to cover the two shifts. Members of the crew range from high school students to retirees, and about 60 percent of the employees return year-after-year to work at the Steer ‘N’ Stein.

“When we open our doors every day, we all have to be ready to go, because customers will start eating tacos first thing in the morning,” said Kranovich, who added that the busiest days at the fair are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. “It’s great to have a lot of experienced employees, because it keeps things running smoothly.”

In 2009, Karen Altman, of Ankeny, marked her 11th year of working at the eatery. “I like watching all the people who come through here,” said the bartender, who works the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift during the fair. “You see everything from farmers to kids with chains and tattoos.”

Business remains a family affair

Through the years, the Steer ‘N’ Stein has also provided employment for multiple generations of the Kranovich family. “All of my children and several of my grandchildren have worked here,” said Mary Kranovich, 85, of Pleasant Hill, who helped start the business with her husband and enjoys working at the restaurant every day of the fair. “I never thought that the business would last this long, but I still look forward to August each year, because I love the state fair.”

The Iowa State Fair staff is great to work with and makes the experience worthwhile, Stan Kranovich added. “We’re all in this together, and all the vendors at the fair run a first-class operation. At the Steer ‘N’ Stein, we try to provide a great product at a fair price, and it keeps customers coming back.”

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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