The ABCs of Bumberfood

Rich Amador of Sugee's Giant Strawberry Shortcake explains it all for you.

Thinking of taking that sidewalk lemonade stand to the big leagues? Before you apply for a Bumbershoot vendor permit, you'd better have a talk with Rich Amador, who co-owns Sugee's Box Lunch Co. in Bellevue with his wife, Pat, and their son, Jason. Originally from San Diego, Rich and Pat started working Bumbershoot as food vendors in 1984. Since then, the festival's selection of edibles has gone from slim pickings to a global smorgasbord, yet the Amadors' simple, wholesome approach remains virtually unchanged. The Amadors work the whole local circuit of outdoor concerts and festivals during the summer, in addition to delivering deli-style lunches to area businesses from their Overlake headquarters throughout the year. They offer a full menu at the Summer Nights at South Lake Union Park series and serve shortcake at Bumbershoot, the Folklife Festival, both of Seattle's major Fourth of July celebrations, and Issaquah's Salmon Days. They weren't always festival-food royalty; Amador says the couple's first Bumbershoot booth was a flop. Their decision to offer ischler cookies, "a sandwich-type Austrian cookie with a peach filling, half-dipped in chocolate," proved overly ambitious. "Nobody knew what they were," he recalls. "That makes for a long evening trying to sell ischler cookies." At Bumbershoot, those were also the days when local comedian John Keister (of Almost Live! fame) could get away with spraying Cheez Whiz on people's fingers for 25 cents a pop. It wasn't until the early '90s, Amador says, that festival vendors started seeking out fresher ingredients and, in certain cases, elevating their fare to restaurant quality. But he emphasizes that certain inelegant fair foods—curly fries, for instance—will never go out of style. Ditto for anything portable, like these evergreens: "hot dogs from Frankfurters and Zieglers, the giant bean burritos from Big City Burritos, and skewers from [Vietnamese booth] Cafe Loc or any number of the Asian stands." Bumbershoot, after all, is no place for formal dining. "When you involve a plate, knife, and fork, you're just begging for a place to sit down," he says, "and at a festival with 200,000 people, that may not happen." But before you serve those 200,000, you need to have a plan. Amador has learned a lot about what separates the Bumbershoot standbys from the dropouts, and he isn't shy about sharing his wisdom. "If I were to give a new vendor one piece of advice, it would be take a good look at your event and venue and don't under- or overestimate what your needs will be." That means not bringing thousands of portions to a tiny street fair, he says; contrarily, by the time you're working the major fests, you could go through 5,000 helpings in one day, "and then you're running around like a mad person trying to get supplies on Labor Day weekend." Perhaps the most essential step is also the easiest to forget: Bring lots of change. "Invariably, the new vendor will show up with plenty of supplies and labor and about $50 of miscellaneous change, when in reality they would need at least $2,000 to get them started." Good advice, since no one likes dashing to Seattle Center's Fun Fair to turn dozens of $10 bills into quarters. After the ischler cookie disaster, the Amadors decided to sell an assortment of cakes at Bumbershoot. Then they lucked out: Snoqualmie Falls, the fest's reigning strawberry-shortcake champ, went out of business. "We had no idea about shortcake," Amador says, though he and his fellow bakers were willing to learn. Sugee's became the first company to serve shortcake at Bumbershoot in clear bowls, which "makes for a great walking advertisement," Amador points out. Nowadays, the Amadors can expect to sell about 4,000 portions of shortcake during the four-day fest, even though they're not the only ones peddling it at the event. "We actually bake the shortcake ourselves," he reports. "[It's] a variation of a scone, and that gives the cake itself the right texture to absorb the three layers of strawberries and two layers of cream that we put on top." Each portion, meant to be shared, weighs around 24 ounces. To prepare for the onslaught of shortcake fans this year, Amador ordered 500 half-gallons of heavy whipping cream from local dairies and 5,250 pounds of strawberries from the Sakuma Brothers farm in Burlington, Wash., where the berries are frozen directly after picking. Amador says that's a necessary measure, since the picking season lasts only a few weeks. He says anybody who tells you you're eating fresh berries in your shortcake in September is pulling your leg. This weekend, if you're at Memorial Stadium, where Elvis Costello, Garbage, and Iggy and the Stooges are scheduled to perform, you'll see Sugee's Giant Strawberry Shortcake (and Sugee's Hamboogies) in the end zone. Amador will likely be there the majority of the time—serving strawberry and blueberry shortcake ($5) as well as one-third-pound Black Angus hamburgers ($5), cheeseburgers ($5.75), and chicken burgers ($6.50). If you order shortcake, make sure you've got someone to share it with. Someone hungry. Bumbershoot runs Fri., Sept. 2–Mon., Sept. 5, at Seattle Center.

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