Battle for the best booya back again

The shortening days, brisk nights and increasingly colorful leaves are all telltale signs that time of year many people consider their favorite is fast approaching -- namely, On the Road Again and the World Championship Booya.

South St. Paul’s finest fall festival returns to Southview Boulevard this year Oct. 6 with its classic array of crafts, cars, games, music and, of course, booya.

On the Road Again has been an early-October tradition for South St. Paul residents and businesses for the past 28 years — an impressive history for any community celebration, but particularly when you consider this one started as a one-time event.

The festival was first organized by businesses along Southview Boulevard as a way to show appreciation to customers who stuck with them despite a lengthy road reconstruction project that made access difficult. The event turned out to be such a hit it’s been brought back to the boulevard every year since.

Root beer and retro cars

Steve Mankowski, owner of the Southview 66 Service Center, was one of the original participants of On the Road Again and has become the main organizer of the event in the years since. Mankowski said pulling things together for the celebration is a challenge every year, but a challenge he believes is well worth it in the end.

“I like to see people come and enjoy themselves,” Mankowski said.

And Mankowski always makes sure there’s plenty to enjoy: the festival features mini-golf, live music by High Brow and the Shades, a root beer garden and a petting zoo. On the Road Again enthusiasts can also expect the return of fan favorites such as the car show, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as the flea market, expected to hold more than a hundred vendors selling crafts, food and other wares.

For Jennifer Gale, president of the River Heights Chamber of Commerce, On the Road Again is a fun tradition, but she also sees it as a chance for local business and residents to build connections.

“It’s a great community event,” Gale said. “Buying local is very important to the Chamber, and this is just one more opportunity to support that effort.”

A local flavor

Among the array of family-friendly activities, the highlight of any On the Road Again is invariably the booya. South St. Paul happens to be the self-appointed booya capital of the world, and while other cities in the Upper Midwest may contest the title they’d be hard-pressed to top the World Championship Booya at On the Road Again in terms of volume: Mankowski estimates as much as 800 gallons of the traditional stew will be cooked this year.

The judging of the booya will take place at 3 p.m. In order to qualify for competition, booya cooks must prepare their recipe in a vat in quantities of no less than 50 gallons. Despite the staggering amounts, anyone who’s arrived late for the festival can attest that leftovers are hard to come by.

Walt Books, South St. Paul’s resident baron of booya, said part of the appeal of the substance is its enduring mystery. He recalls a period in the 1980s after a national newspaper covered the competition that he received phone calls from Texas, New York, Louisiana and other faraway places seeking a more in-depth explanation of the booya tradition.

“Nobody seems to know what it is,” Books said.

There’s a simple fix for that, according to Mankowski: get out and try some booya Oct. 5.

“If they’ve never tasted it, it’s wonderful,” Mankowski said. “There’s nothing like booya, especially on a cool day.”

Luke Reiter can be reached at lreiter@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

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