Steep Food Prices Draw Outrage From Some At Cheyenne Frontier Days

At Cheyenne Frontier Days, the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, the food isn’t cheap. Spending $20 for a turkey leg left some patrons not happy.

LW
Leo Wolfson

July 28, 20235 min read

Food stand at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Friday, July 28, 2023
Food stand at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Friday, July 28, 2023 (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

If you shell out $20 for a turkey leg, it better be pretty darn tasty, right?

Sadly, that wasn’t fully the case for Maryland resident Charles Zentgraft, who coughed up the $20 at Cheyenne Frontier Days on Thursday for a turkey leg he described as tasting “seven out of 10.”

“I felt like it shouldn’t be $20,” Zentgraft said.

The price of food at this year’s Cheyenne Frontier Days has caught the attention of some fairgoers this year as exorbitant. 

‘Criminal’ Turkey Legs

Carrying two heaping platters of ribbon chips, Logan, Utah, resident Nick Long described charging $20 for a turkey leg as “criminal.” 

“I swear it’s doubled,” Long said about the food prices at CFD.

Long and his wife Courtney grew up in Cheyenne and have been going to Cheyenne Frontier Days since they were children. Neither remember food prices being this high.

“The turkey legs used to be $10-$12,” Courtney said. “We were going to get one until we saw the cost. It’s not worth it.”

So the Longs opted for the ribbon-cut potato chips, costing a slightly more affordable $25 for the two plates topped with a leaning tower of chips drenched in neon yellow melted cheddar cheese.

But CFD is a fair, not exactly the place people expect to find bargain-basement prices on food.

Cheyenne resident Beth Thompson has been attending CFD for many years as well and said this year’s prices are fair.

“I don’t think they’re too exorbitant,” she said, clutching a footlong hot dog in a firm grasp.

Food stand at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Friday, July 28, 2023
Food stand at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Friday, July 28, 2023 (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Much More To The Picture

Nate Janousek, who runs Fun Biz Concessions, the food vendor for Cheyenne Frontier Days, said their prices haven’t increased in a few years. Despite inflation cutting into his profit margins, Janousek said he has kept his prices steady to look out for customers.

“I try to really not pass that on to the customer,” he said.

Janousek said food vendors at fairs and rodeos have about five times more overhead costs than what a typical restaurant or grocery store has. One of the main costs comes from transporting all of the food, which is kept refrigerated in trailers that run 24-hours a day on diesel fuel.

“Everything here, as far as what costs we’re getting here, is substantially higher than what you see in mainstream America,” he said. “That’s why things at rodeos and festivals cost a little more.”

Janousek said none of the more than 225 employees he has working at CFD are paid less than $15 an hour, not including tips. He also hosts one meal from a sit-down restaurant for his employees each day during the fair, a cost he said runs into the thousands of dollars. He’s also providing his staff housing while they work at the event.

One of the more affordable food options at this year’s Cheyenne Frontier Days is Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which has three locations at the event. Brian Martel, general manager of the Dickey’s in Cheyenne, said offering a slightly more affordable option is their goal. Their turkey legs are $18 each.

“We just want to offer the best quality experience we can to make Cheyenne Frontier Days enjoyable for everyone,” Martel said.

Fort Collins, Colorado, brothers David and Daniel Miller said they have an expectation when going to an event like a concert or fair that prices are going to be higher than they would see outside that setting.

“I think these prices are pretty fair,” David Miller said.

Also, specialty items like funnel cakes and turkey legs typically aren’t readily available at an everyday store.

“A lot of this stuff you can only get once a year at a fair or a rodeo,” Janousek said. 

  • Maryland resident Charles Zentgraft bites into a $20 turkey leg at Cheyenne Frontier Days on Thursday. He said the leg was overpriced, and rated it a 7 out of 10 for taste.
    Maryland resident Charles Zentgraft bites into a $20 turkey leg at Cheyenne Frontier Days on Thursday. He said the leg was overpriced, and rated it a 7 out of 10 for taste. (Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Nick and Courtney Long decided $20 for a turkey let was too much, so they got the ribbon-cut fries instead.
    Nick and Courtney Long decided $20 for a turkey let was too much, so they got the ribbon-cut fries instead. (Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily)
  • At $7 a cup, beer is one of the more inexpensive food items at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
    At $7 a cup, beer is one of the more inexpensive food items at Cheyenne Frontier Days. (Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily)

Steep For All

But all of that doesn’t persuade Miles City, Montana, residents Lonnie and Norma Loomis, who have been going to and participating in rodeos their whole lives.

“I thought it was a bit high,” Norma Loomis said of this year’s food prices.

On Thursday, the couple chowed down on a $14 hamburger and $12 hot dog they both found to be fairly mediocre. Norma said her burger could’ve been a little hotter while Lonnie said his hot dog bun was crispy and chunky.

But Lonnie also acknowledged that everything is more expensive these days, mentioning how the three nights of lodging he is paying for at the local Motel 6 costs $650.

“For $650, it better have a happy ending and a jacuzzi,” he said with a laugh.

And You Can’t Use EBT

Kyra Morton expressed frustration to Cowboy State Daily that none of the vendors at Cheyenne Frontier Days accept food stamps, a payment officially known as an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT).

“This is a form of discrimination,” Morton said. “I can’t afford $200 for a few hot dogs at the carnival. Because they don’t accept EBT cards, we all went hungry. Will not go back.”

Janousek said he could offer lower food quality if he wanted to. He only serves certified angus beef at Cheyenne Frontier Days, which he said is part of his effort to give customers “a premium experience.”

“With inflation, our dollars have gotten thinner and thinner,” he said. “We have not passed these increases on to the consumer because it’s an important part of the guest experience at Frontier Days.”

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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LW

Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter