While the annual Champaign County Fair has no shortage of options for those in search of an ice cold drink on a hot August day, generations of fairgoers have made it a yearly tradition to stop by the Big Orange Building for a cup of their favorite orange drink.
First sold to county fairgoers in 1965 by grocery store owner Bill Troutwine, the Big Orange drink will return for its 53rd consecutive fair thanks to Urbana resident Paul Poppel, who wasn’t about to let the iconic beverage become a thing of the past.
Poppel said in speaking with coach Kevin Bowdle, whose Urbana High School baseball team helped serve the popular drink for the past decade as a way to make money for the program, he learned that the Upchurch family – longtime operators of the Big Orange concession booth – no longer was going to run the booth.
After learning of this development, Poppel said, he immediately reached out to the fair board to see if he could get hold of the Big Orange Building to continue serving the drink.
“I didn’t want somebody else to come in here and take over and not sell the Big Orange drink or give an opportunity to the kids to make some money,” Poppel said.
With the fair board’s blessing, Poppel is renting out the Big Orange Building – located across from the Merchants Building – for the 176th annual county fair, and he will continue doing business just as the Upchurches did, except for a few changes.
While the name of the booth will change to Paul’s Catering – a business Poppel has operated in Urbana for seven years – he will continue to do as the Upchurches did and donate the proceeds from the booth to local sports programs. This year, the Urbana High School volleyball team will staff the booth and receive the profits, but Poppel hopes to involve other sports programs in the coming years.
As for concession offerings, Paul’s Catering will continue to serve the items that have made the booth a familiar stop for fairgoers over the years: Big Orange, potato chips, brats, hot dogs and ice (bag or cup).
“I’m keeping the same price on the Big Orange drink at 75 cents a cup,” Poppel said. “I’m going to try to keep it the same price as long as I can.
“I’m also still going through Save-A-Lot and Steve’s (Market & Deli) to get all my stuff so that stays the same. I try to keep everything as local as I can,” he added.
In addition to the staples, Poppel, who also operates the concession stand at the city pool, decided to increase the menu by offering pork loin (either on a stick or on a bun) and pulled pork sandwiches.
Paul’s Catering booth will be open every day of the fair (Aug. 4-11) from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.