Nathan Adcock (left) and Michelle place Horseshoe Sausage on a grill while David Sanchez (right) oversees the booth.
When David Sanchez was growing up, working at A Night in Old San Antonio had already become a tradition in his family. So, it was a natural for him to find his way into the volunteer corps that keeps it running year in and year out.
Trouble is, he couldn't work with his father, who had made a home for himself at the Fast Draw Suds booth in Frontier Town working for an uncle who was its chairman. David was too young to serve alcohol. So, he became a runner, covering the entire NIOSA grounds at La Villita and making sure each of the booths had what they needed.
It's hard work, and Sanchez admitted with a laugh that he hated it. But who would like to try to navigate through the crowds night after night? It was only after he started working behind a booth that he began to enjoy himself at NIOSA, which raises funds for the San Antonio Conservation Society. That was the Horsehoe Sausage booth, and 15 years later, Sanchez has become its chair while his cousin, Nathan Adcock, works as his co-chair.
"It's a family reunion," he said Tuesday, the opening night of the 65th NIOSA. "We all live in different parts of town, so this is the one time we really get to see each other. We get to see each other the whole week."
Horsehoes on the grill.
Adcock's mother, who used to chair the booth, still volunteers, as do other members from all branches of the family. Some still work at Fast Draw Suds, others at the nearby Ranch Steak booth.
Sanchez also sees a few friends from his job at USAA, who have volunteered with him through the years. His co-workers haven't seen him on the campus, though, because Sanchez has taken the week off to devote himself to the booth.
Things flowed smoothly at the start, as I joined Sanchez, Adcock and their crew to serve up cases of sausages to the crowds. Over the years, I have worked a variety of booths, from Maria's Tortillas to fried mushrooms, but I have probably worked the most in Frontier Town, where you can also find Shypoke Eggs and, until this year, calf fries. (The loss of the calf fries booth had drew more than a few questions from the partygoers.)
There were plenty in line waiting for a Horseshoe Sausage, which is made specially for NIOSA by Opa's of Fredericksburg. The mixture of pork and beef is precooked, and Sanchez's team warms them over over fiery coals until they're ready to stuff into a Bimbo bun. The well-seasoned meat, slathered in ballpark mustard or picante sauce, was juicy to bite into and made a perfect partner for an icy beer.
I'm ready to serve you.
The system for preparing the sandwiches was fairly easy, as long as people did their part. After the sausages were grilled, they were kept in warmers until there was a demand for sandwiches. A group them inserted the sausages into the bun before sliding them into a paper sleeve that was twisted closed. These were then kept in steam trays until they were sold. Most didn't stay long in the tray, because demand was steady throughout the shift, and we refilled each tray numerous times.
The system is actually a little easier than it used to be, Sanchez said, remembering how Opa's used to package the meat in rings that would have to be cut in half. No cutting is needed now, as the sausages are individual and yet pressed into a horseshoe shape.
NIOSA, a time to celebrate San Antonio-style.
Tuesday is generally the sausage booth's busiest night, with about 10 (25-pound) cases coming off the grills. Over the four days of NIOSA, about 30 cases in all will be sold with Thursday night, or College Night, being the lightest, Sanchez said.
Horseshoes are a symbol of luck, and luck was indeed with Tuesday's NIOSA crowds. By the time I finished my shift, a few sprinkles had started to fall and a cool breeze that often presages rain could be felt. But there was to be no rain on the party, just a fun evening of celebrating San Antonio-style.
NIOSA continues through Friday. For more information, click here.
Photos by Phillip Kent and John Griffin