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It's a Hudson family affair at the Minnesota State Fair

Hank and Ellen Hanten of Hudson have worked together at the Minnesota State Fair for nearly 40 years. It’s become a family affair. Photo courtesy of Hanten family1 / 2
Shanghaied Henri’s located at the International Bazaar at the Minnesota State Fair is owned by Hudson residents Hank and Ellen Hanten. The family has owned the spot for 30 years. Photo courtesy of Hanten family2 / 2

Off Judson Avenue, at the entrance of the International Bazaar, Minnesota State Fair visitors can find a taste of Hudson at Shanghaied Henri's.

For the last 30 years, owners and Hudson residents Hank and Ellen Hanten have owned the food stand at that spot. They raised their kids, worked full careers and retired while running the stand, under a couple different names and types of cuisines, every year for the nearly two weeks of the Great Minnesota Get Together.

The Hantens connection with the state fair started years before, when at age 18 Hank Hanten began working at a French fry stand. He fell in love with the business.

"It's one of those crazy businesses that once you get in, it gets in your blood," Hanten said.

The love quickly spread, through blood and marriage. Hank opened his own stand at a different location, selling pizza and hoagies, and when he got married, Ellen Hanten joined him, followed by their kids.

The Hantens had the hoagie stand for about 10 years before moving to their current location in 1988.

At the time, it wasn't much. The International Bazaar was still new, operating out of the remnants of what was known as "The Mexican Village." The Hanten's structure was made of wood, much of which was rotting and needed to be replaced for many years.

"It was small," Hank said. "We made it work."

That was until 2008, when the remnants of the old village were leveled and the International Bazaar rebuilt. With the new changes came a new name as well — Shanghaied Henri's.

Over the years the food has focused on international cuisine, though it's ranged from Italian to German to Mexican. Now the theme focuses on tacos from around the world that the Hantens create, including popular items like a Korean BBQ taco, an Oslo taco and smoked gouda nachos.

"We just sit around and make up tacos," Hank said. "So we're constantly researching everywhere we go."

They also operate the Summit Brewing beer tasting booth, which will have an exclusive beer brewed for them as well as the sampling "Summit on a Stick."

The Hantens employ 100 people for the fair every year, with up to 50 people on a shift on the busy weekends. But when it comes to the family, it's still all hands on deck.

Their three daughters have been coming out to the fair since they were 10, and old enough to do some work. Now that they're grown up, they each have their own roles.

One of the kids does social marketing, another scheduling and hiring. Significant others have been pulled into the mix as well.

"Anybody who gets involved in this family ends up working at the fair," Hank said.

Ellen and Hank are at the fair for 12 hour shifts every day.

Ellen arrives at the fair at 6 a.m. every morning, and works until 6 p.m. at night. She opens up the stand and gets the kitchen running.

Hank then arrives sometime between noon to 2 p.m., and will be there until midnight or 1 a.m. managing people and managing the food.

Preparing for the two weeks starts almost right after the last fair is over. It starts with working with suppliers, and revs up again in the weeks right before the event.

"We'll be working pretty much nonstop from two weeks before the fair physically on site," Hank said.

The Hantens love the excitement of it all, Hank said. The event-driven focus is what's kept them coming back for 30-plus years.

"You work hard, get it all done and then it's over," he said.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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