ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – You can get a taste of the wild west at Western Heritage Classic, underway this weekend at the Taylor County Expo Center. The vendors that make up the event, however, return not just for the festivities, but for the people.
When you enter the grounds of the Expo Center, lines were already forming in each of the food vendor areas on Friday morning, in front of Big Country Hall and the Taylor Telecom Arena.
People could be seen exchanging cash for a turkey leg, hot dog, or fajita steak right on the griddle at Smokin’ Like Ya Like It. While visitors to Abilene have come for the rodeo events and great food, the vendors are coming back because of the people.
“You meet a lot of really good people here, and it’s a win-win situation for everyone,” said Smokin’ Like Ya Like It owner Doug Jones. “They make you feel like family, you know?”
It’s not an uncommon feeling either. You can walk from booth to booth, vendor to vendor, and hear very similar stories from every owner and operator.
For Marti Wells, owner of Silver Concho Jewelryshe traveled from New Mexico for nine years to attend Western Heritage Classic, bringing with her a bit of Native American flair.
“I grew up around this jewelry,” Wells said. “We’ve been going to Gallup since I was five, where most Navajo people live and make jewelry. I’ve always had it in my life, so I love it.
She said she grew up on a ranch and feels like she’s at home in West Texas, especially when the customers she serves take a great interest in the Navajo artwork she brings.
“This crowd loves jewelry,” Wells said. “I just have the same taste as them and it’s great.”
For Russell and Sally Mullins, owners of the Vittle Barn, they’ve been coming to the Western Heritage Classic for 20 years now, so long in fact, that they’ve lost track of some of their regulars.
“It’s facial recognition first,” Russell said. “Sometimes we don’t have a name to go with it, but my wife turns to me and says ‘who was that?’ and I’ll say ‘I’m not sure, but they’ve been with us before’.
Serving their cinnamon rolls piping hot, they said it wasn’t the good food, rodeo and live music that brought them back, it was all the regulars they’ve formed relationships with over the years.
“We’ve had people eating with us for 20 years,” Russell said.
Showing that the southern hospitality of a West Texan goes a long way, even in a small interaction like buying a corn dog.
Western Heritage Classic runs Friday, May 12 through Sunday, May 15 at the Taylor County Expo Center.