Inside “Doc’s” at the State Fair of Texas, it is the food that brings people in.
But it’s Fernie who keeps them coming back.
“The people who come in here say, ‘Are you still here?’ I say, ‘Yea, I’m still here. I’ve got to run this place.'”
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At 90-years-old, Wanda “Fern” Winter has been a part of the fair since 1969.
“It’s just been a magnificent place to be.”
Each day during the fair, she takes a seat inside her restaurant and watches as crowds gather to eat the dishes she created.
Customers line up to get a handshake or a hug and rarely leave without a funnel cake.
“We’ve had no complaints,” said Winter. “Everybody says ‘You’ve got the best funnel cakes in town.’”
It was Fernie, along with her husband, John Winter, who introduced Texas fairgoers to funnel cakes in 1980.
They tried the confection for the first time in Branson, Missouri and introduced their own to Texans – Fernie’s Funnel Cake.
“Mother is actually a descendant of some Kings and Queens of England, so we call her the ‘Funnel Cake Queen,’” said daughter Christi Erpillo. “This is her empire and we are her minions.”
It’s a fried food empire Fernie never intended to rule.
She and her husband took a one-time job cooking at the fair just to make some extra cash for a vacation to Vegas.
But the next year, they were back and eventually bought their first concession. One place turned into five and the menu kept expanding.
“My food is just so good here,” said Fernie.
Forty-eight years after that first fair, Fernie and her recipes are still there and the lines are even longer.
Only now, Fernie keeps an eye on the crowds while her daughters run the kitchen.
“I furnish the money and they do the work,” laughs Fernie.
“And if somebody is not doing something or not serving something right, we’ll see her with her little walker going back [in the kitchen] and we’re like ‘Mom, what are you doing?’” said daughter Johnna McKee.
Proving at 90, she is still the Funnel Cake Queen.
Fernie’s daughters have gone on to create and be recognized for their own award-winning dishes all named in honor of their mother.