Nothing Sweeter than "Honey Festival"

Sep 6, 2011

Throughout its 34-year history, the weather during the Breathitt County Honey Festival has either been very hot, or rainy and cool. Last weekend's edition proved to be a stinging scorcher, with heat index temperatures over 100 degrees and plenty of sweaty faces. Despite the heat and humidity, the crowds came downtown. They saw old friends, listened to music, and visited the booths to eat and to buy. For many of them, it made for a fine, festive Labor Day weekend once again.

So much that the festival brought back Tony Karavasilis and his son, Alex to serve up their prize gyros down at the food booths on Broadway. If you were hungry, you could look at plates of gyros, bourbon chicken and sandwiches all decked out with yellow and green cups of freshly-squeezed lemonade on a table in front of their booth. But no one ate those plastic creations, as a sign saying “For Display” kept that from happening.

The real action - as well as the real food - was inside the tent on Sunday afternoon. “The Philly Cheese Steak's been our best seller this year. Then the Bourbon Chicken, and the Lamb Gyros,” said Tony, a native of Greece who now calls Miami, Fla. home during the winter months. For he and his son Alex, Kentucky is where they spend their summers. “We go to festivals during the summer and fall months. We've stayed in Corbin for the NIBROC Festival, then we go from here to Hazard for the Black Gold Festival, and then go up to Northern Kentucky in October.”

“It takes us about an hour to an hour-and-a-half to make the food, fresh from scratch. Our customers like what we offer, and some of them like their food a little different than what we're used to,” added Alex. “We've had some people wanting us to put cheese on top of their rice. And this heat's made us sell a lot of lemonade. But the people are nice here.”

Tony concurred. “Wonderful folks. Everybody's friendly here. We'll be back.”

Just a few yards away, the question on people's minds was, “What's a Walking Taco?” None were sighted, but plenty were consumed, thanks to the food booth belonging to the Knights, an AAU Basketball team based in Lost Creek. Offering such goodies as Pixy Sticks and Sour Patches, the signature dish was right there on the trailer. For five dollars, a hungry festival patron could partake of the taco, and wash it down with a Sno Cone for two dollars more.

Inside, George Fugate gave the recipe. “The Walking Taco? It's a bag of Doritos corn chips that you break up with your hands. Then you add the toppings, like the meat, cheese, lettuce and sauce. Then you put a dip of sour cream on top, and you walk when you eat it.”

For George and Jason Fugate, it's their group's first Honey Festival, so the taco sales help fund activities for the Knights, which is a part of Marie Roberts-Caney Elementary School. 

“We've got about 12 kids from third to seventh grade playing for the Knights, and this is how we're helping them to buy the things they need,” said Jason, who noted the weather affected their sales this year. “It runs in cycles. We tend to sell more when it's cooler, like at night. It's just been so hot during the day that people usually buy drinks. But they still like the Walking Taco.”

Back up Main Street, the skies were threatening and the wind howled. That helped a lot to break the humidity, but it didn't break up sales pitch of Betty Hodgkiss from Taylorsville in Spencer County. Just steps away from the big tent, Betty extolled the virtues of One Step Cleaning's latest find – an all-purpose cleaning cloth designed for use around the home, car, truck, boat, RV or anywhere there's a need to clean up.

In front of her display was a window pane, while a small can of Crisco shortening was nearby. Also in place were a roll of paper towels, and the wonder cloth Betty eagerly spoke of as she went to work. “Notice I'm using Crisco on this window pane, wiping it with a paper towel. See how it smears? Now, I use the One-Step Clearing Cloth.” Within seconds, the Crisco smears were completely gone. Isn't that amazing? Here, I'll give you one.”

The brief presentation was better than today's “infomercials” on TV.

Somewhere in Heaven, Billy Mays would be proud.

“These things sell like crazy,” Betty told the Times-Voice. Originally from the Knott County community of Redfox, the former graduate of Carr Creek High School met her husband Lee while he served in the military. Both of them went to work in Louisville for the tobacco-maker, Phillip Morris, and when they retired, they hit the road to sell the cleaning cloth.

While Lee watched the skies for storms, Betty talked. “I had two people come here last night who bought some of these cloths. One was for $6, two for $10, and the more you buy, the bigger discount you get. Anyway, they came came back this afternoon, waiting for us to open, and they bought some more. They were up all night, using our cloths and cleaning their houses. They couldn't wait to buy 'em.”

Across from the Breathitt County Courthouse, Jane McBreen was making a visit to the crafts tent, bringing her skills as a photographer to the festival for the first time. “I've always liked to take pictures. I worked for a hospital for years, and after that, I decided to go into business for myself.” 

Jane's company is called Shellybean Productions, and among her fine works was a nighttime photo of the Roebling Suspension Bridge in Covington, spanning the Ohio River to the Cincinnati skyline. Other photos were seen on cards and calendars she was selling, but the focal point of her display was a large quilt she held up.

That's because Jane – who now lives in the Northern Kentucky town of Fort Wright – has deep Breathitt County roots, in more ways than one. “My parents, grandparents and great grandparents were all from Breathitt County. My maiden name is Johnson. Some may remember Watt Johnson, Liza Johnson, and Beulah Eads,” Jane recalled, “Beulah had a booth here at the festival for years. Thanks to Beulah, I took up quilt making. I'm kin to Flossie Combs, who still lives in town. In fact, Flossie and I were talking about quilts, and she told me about the Honey Festival.”

As the wind continued to bring in a fresh, cool breeze, Jane mentioned how she thought the heat had affected sales of her items. “It's been awfully hot here, and I think it may have kept some of the shoppers away from the festival. Aside from the calendars and cards, I haven't had much buying on the quilts. But I've really enjoyed it here. And there's always next year.”

Near the corner of Main and Brown Streets, the crew in the Hair Loom booth were taking a breather from their busy afternoon, demonstrating their work in giving customers feather extensions, tinsel extensions and neon hair extensions. The wafting winds made a cooling moment even more enjoyable for one of the hair stylists.

“It's been really hot, but now that the weather's cooling down and we're supposed to get some rain anytime now, it's feeling much better,” said Mary White. “I just really enjoy seeing all of the people who came by today. They've had questions, we've shown them how it's done, and we're all satisfied.”

“The things that stood out today were the heat and the wraps,” added Sarah Martinez, who not only works at Hair Loom, but also at the Breathitt County Court Clerk's Office. “I've personalized their hair wraps for them, and we're so pleased at how this day has turned out. It's been awesome. And while the heat's been hot and sticky, I'm a kind of person who freezes to death.”

“It's been an excellent few days here under the tent,” said Hair Loom owner, Pam Butler. “We've had a lot of people come out today and they've liked what we've offered. Coming to the crafts booth has been a blessing for us.”

A brief shower came to downtown Jackson just moments after five o'clock. The air continued to cool down, but visitors still popped in to see what's on sale, who they know and what's for supper.

After a blazing start, Honey Festival 34 was now in wind-down mode, and some of the vendors began to pack up and prepare for another year.

A s a long day of work at the Hair Loom booth was wrapping up, Mary White had already prepared her plans for the evening. “I'm going home, take a nice, long shower, prop my feet up, and rest.”