From slinging burritos to hawking rides - Albuquerque Journal

From slinging burritos to hawking rides

Deseree McDaugale and her son Tuscany, 2, ride the ‘Balloon Fiesta’ Ferris wheel on Main Street during the 50th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. (Chancey Bush/albuquerque journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

For this year’s Balloon Fiesta, restaurateur Marcus Cassimus decided to try his hand at something new – being a carny.

“I hate that description,” he said. “That’s not what I’m doing or who I am.”

Even if exaggerated, the description is not completely inaccurate.

The longtime owner of Hello Deli in Albuquerque had been a nearly 30-year fixture on Main Street during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, where his breakfast burritos, coffee, hot chocolate and other fare were favorites among fiestagoers.

But unable to hire enough temporary workers for the operation of a fiesta booth, Cassimus made the decision to forgo being a food vendor for the second year in a row.

I couldn’t get enough people to work it, and I would have hurt my deli business if I pulled people from over there,” he said. “I’ve got a great staff, they’ve been with me for 100 years. But I still wanted to be part of Balloon Fiesta and be on the field, so I rented a Ferris wheel and a couple of Samba rides,” also known as spiders.

In the process, Cassimus can claim a first. According to fiesta officials, this is the first time in the history of the Balloon Fiesta that there have been mechanized carnival-type rides inside Balloon Fiesta Park (though during the 2000 fiesta, rides were set up outside the park in a nearby parking lot).

Cassimus is not alone in having difficulty finding workers. Although New Mexico is back to pre-pandemic unemployment levels, according to the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, many industries still struggle with a low labor force participation rate.

The restaurant industry is one of those, said Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association. “There’s no question about it, based on what we’re hearing from our members.”

While maintaining a Hello Deli booth at fiesta would have required about 24 workers, the staffing requirements for the fiesta’s carnival rides are minimal. As part of the rental fee, each carnival ride was accompanied by two certified individuals to set up and assist with operation, Cassimus said. In addition, he brought in four student athletes from a local high school to collect money and otherwise help out in exchange for making a donation to the school’s athletic programs.

The Ferris wheel, located at the north end of Main Street, was rented from a company in Texas. It coincidentally sports a “Balloon Fiesta” nameplate and features seats that resemble a balloon gondola. A decorative structure shaped like a traditional balloon envelope is mounted above each chair.

Unable to hire enough temporary workers for a Hello Deli booth at the Balloon Fiesta, Marcus Cassimus instead set up carnival-type rides, allowing him to still “be part of Balloon Fiesta.” (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

The Sambas, located at the south end of Main Street, were rented from a Florida company. Unlike a Ferris wheel, they turn on a horizontal axis and the arms have some additional up and down motion. The larger Samba is fitted out with gondola-type seats and a balloon envelope above, while the mini-Samba for children has a dinosaur theme.

“This is kind of a new thing for me,” Cassimus said. “Slinging sandwiches and burritos is who I am, and I feel naked without having that. It’s really neat to see the kids on the rides and their big smiles, but food is in my blood. That’s what I do.”

Larissa Chavez, 7, is all smiles as she sits in a dinosaur-themed ride at the 50th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta on Tuesday. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)
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