It took Reggie Burnette and his brother Charles almost 20 years to become a food vendor at the N.C. State Fair. They started Tropical Delights in 1995, and now their smoothie stand is home to the 2019 “Media’s Choice Best New Food.” Members of the news and lifestyle media sampled several of this year’s new fair foods and chose the Dole Whip that Tropical Delights will be serving this year.
For Burnette, being the top vote-getter was validation that brought tears to his eyes. He and his brother were born and raised in Durham and started out by setting up at church fairs and festivals. It wasn’t until 2014 that they finally got a spot at the state fair.
This is now the 6th year Tropical Delights will be at the fair, but Burnett’s brother died about two and a half years ago from pancreatic cancer. He lived to see their dream become reality, but he wasn’t there for this year’s honor. So in addition to that feeling of validation, Burnette’s thoughts also drifted to his brother.
“It was confirmation that after the hard work we’ve put in, people like it,” Burnette said. “It’s one of those things that makes you feel good – putting a smile on people’s faces.”
People certainly do seem to love the Dole Whip and the smoothies that Burnette has always served. The Dole Whip is a soft frozen treat that mixes pineapple, coconut and special ingredients from the Dole company. It has no dairy, no gluten and no artificial color, which has made it popular for people with dietary restrictions too.
Of course, the flavor is what makes it a winner. Burnett immediately thought so when he tasted Dole Whip somewhere else several years ago. He realized the Dole Whip was growing in popularity but that it was still hard to find. He saw an opportunity and made a business decision to add it to his offerings.
“I tried it and was like ‘wow, this is very good.’ It’s something I wanted to add to my menu,” Burnett said.
He plans to serve the Dole Whip in the hollowed-out pineapples that have become a signature of Tropical Delights. You can also try a pineapple float that Burnett is introducing at the fair this year too. It’s a hollowed-out pineapple filled with pineapple juice with Dole Whip on top.
The fancy-looking pineapple drinks certainly get a lot of attention on the fairgrounds. You can get a small pineapple or a large one. Burnette says the large ones in particular make a stand-out visual impression.
“It’s all about the presentation,” he said. “The eyes see it first.”
In addition to the new Dole Whip drinks, you can expect to see old favorites at the Tropical Delights stand too. Smoothie flavors include strawberry, piña colada, mango and peach. There are also several smoothies that mix flavors, such as the “Beach Girl” smoothie that blends strawberry and peach flavors.
Tropical Delights is in the same location this year as in past years – outside Dorton arena in front of the waterfall feature. Burnette said he is prepared for the additional people the new Dole Whip will likely attract. Being selected as the media choice for best new food may bring even more people, and Burnette is excited.
“What would my brother think?” he thought aloud.