By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
The flavors of the State Fair of Texas are bursting beyond the boundaries of Fair Park as Isaac Rousso has opened State Fair Treats, a year-round restaurant, inside the Wal-Mart Superstore at Coit and Highway 190/President George Bush Turnpike.
The restaurant, which opened Tuesday, Sept. 20, is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.
“These last few weeks have been filled with many crazy-amazing 24-hour days and this is really an awesome time in our lives,” said Rousso, who plans to open more locations in the next year and across the country in the future, sharing his menu which will have up to 45 items. It was during the second week of the 2015 State Fair of Texas that he was approached by Wal-Mart executives, wanting to connect and create something new and different.
“The State Fair of Texas has given us an incredible foundation and grounding, and it is the platform on which we are elevating to some really great opportunities to keep the flavors of the Fair, and ourselves, going the other 341 days of the year.”
Rousso, a Dallas native, is the son of Cuban immigrants, Bertha and Joseph of blessed memory, and the brother of Sarah Rich and Rebecca Wussow. He grew up at Temple Emanu-El and was a member of BBYO’s Brandeis chapter, graduating from The Alexander School and UT Austin. He and his wife Lily, a native of Miami, Florida and the daughter of part-time Dallasites Migali and Samuel Naon, are the parents of Sara and Joey, a baby and a toddler when this journey began. In a 2010 Texas Jewish Post article, Rousso said he wanted to have something for his children to hold on to: a business and a tradition. Seemingly, with his successes, he has accomplished that goal many times over.
Always a big dreamer, Isaac holds on to the fact that his family came to the United States from Cuba in 1962 and all of his life his parents taught him about working hard and living the American dream.
“When I think back to how we got here, this is really some kind of dream,” he said, thrilled at the opportunity to expand his brand. “More than 2 million people come through during the Fair’s 24-day run. At our first Wal-Mart location alone, which we chose because it really is in our ‘backyard,’ we’ll have the chance to see between one-and-a-half and 2 million people every year.”
The State Fair Treats menu’s taste-bud teasers include hash brown bites, breakfast tacos, breakfast biscuits, French toast, nachos, chili fries, fried pickles, macaroni and cheese bites, and desserts like funnel cake fries, cannoli bites, fried Oreos and Twinkies, and the Texas bluebonnet with whipped cream and blueberry puree. Rousso oversees all but welcomes Operations Manager Jacob Hunter and General Manager Jackie Blakely to his team.
Cookie fries, crinkle-cut fry-shaped cookies — crispy on the outside and a soft butter-cookie inside with chocolate chips or sprinkles, and chocolate or strawberry sauce in which to “gedunk” the sweet sticks — derived from a recommendation by Lily. That was a good recommendation, it seems, as the entry won the 2016 Big Tex Choice Award for Most Creative. This latest culinary concoction of Rousso’s will debut in the restaurant Oct. 24 — after State Fair attendees get the first bite, during the Fair’s run from Sept. 30 to Oct. 23.
In the last nine years, Rousso received Big Tex Choice Award honors for his deep-fried Cuban roll, fried Pop Tart, and his smoky bacon margarita.
The business, a family collaborative that began its run at the State Fair of Texas almost a decade ago with their Taste of Cuba booth, has in the years since added the Magnolia Beer Garden, Magnolia Pavilion, Magnolia Smokehouse, and most recently the Craft Beer Terrace. It’s tough not to make a Rousso-infused snack-stop no matter where you are.
“We’ve made lots of friends through the years and even though, until now, we’ve only had the month of the State Fair to see people, it’s cool that the kids who were tweens when we started are now gone to college,” said Rousso. It’s not lost on him that his own children have really grown up with his business. “It’s going to be great to get to see people, we hope, a lot more often in the restaurant.”
Karissa Condoianis, vice president of public relations at the State Fair of Texas, noted that the State Fair Treats concept is wholly Rousso’s and not at all owned by the Fair itself.
“We are so happy for Isaac and Lily and the whole family because they embody everything State Fair of Texas. We love seeing hard work pay off and this family works really hard.
“They are so humble and kind and this venture is sure to keep the spirit of the Fair always alive.”
Condoianis said that Rousso has made a commitment to help support the State Fair of Texas’ Youth Scholarship Program, which, since 1992, has awarded $8.7 million to deserving students.
For the Roussos, who are members of both Chabad of Plano/Collin County and Temple Shalom and who have been married for 16 years, this year is going to be a sweet 16, and a tasty year to remember!