Highlands United Church of Christ has fed hungry fairgoers even before the congregation constructed its own building at the Clark County Fairgrounds 62 years ago.
But the Springfield church is closing this year, and members will serve their last roast beef hot shot at the 2017 Clark County Fair, which opens Friday, July 21.
The church will thank patrons for their support as it opens its cafeteria this one last year in its building in front of the cattle barn. The cafeteria will have shortened hours this year, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“We thought we should be there to tell them that this was our last year,” said organizer Betty Mougey, a member of the Highlands congregation who has volunteered at the building since its foundation.
The church sold food at the fair from a tent long ago but decided to construct a building at the fairgrounds in 1955, the same year that Mougey and her husband were married. They honeymooned in Florida but came home early to help build it.
“We couldn’t stand being away,” she said.
Visitors were served restaurant-style when it first opened, but eventually Highlands switched to a cafeteria service. People have said that they come to the fair just to eat at Highlands, Mougey said.
Highlands offers a large menu that includes steak, chicken, hamburgers, corn, green beans and more. It’s home-cooked food on real plates with real utensils, said Tammy Vlcek, Mougey’s daughter.
And then there’s the roast beef.
Vlcek described the hot shot as two pieces of bread that are loaded with roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy. It’s a fork-and-knife dish.
“It just entirely fills your plate,” she said.
Dozens of people take shifts at the cafeteria during the fair and spend hours upon hours preparing for this one week, cleaning the building, making sure the equipment works, freezing meatloaf, preparing homemade salads and completing other tasks.
Mougey said her own family was raised at the fair, as were her grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. She’s seen the same people at the fairgrounds year after year and watched their families grow, too.
Vlcek herself remembers busing tables and working the pop counter as a kid, graduating to the serving line or the grill as she got older.
The building is owned by the Clark County Fair and the fair board will discuss its future after the fair is over, said Dean Blair, executive director of the fairgrounds.
“It’s bittersweet,” Vlcek said. “It’s wonderfully served the fair community for many, many years.”