Fiesta Madness!

Controlled chaos. That was the scene inside the enormous white tent just outside the northern West Virginia factory where Fiesta Ware has been produced since 1936. It was the moment I had been anticipating for weeks, and as I stood among so many other Fiesta fans who, unlike me, knew exactly what they were doing, I realized all at once that I was in way over my head. I couldn’t articulate what I had expected at the annual Fiesta tent sale, but it definitely wasn’t this.

It was like playing Jenga, but with dishes!

Before I overwhelm you, dear reader, allow me to back up to explain how this most colorful adventure began. For many months, even before my husband and I began our kitchen remodel project, we had discussed ideas for buying new dishes to replace my beloved “Garden Harvest” pattern. The dishes you have seen so many times here on Comfort du Jour have seen me through some interesting times, and I was ready to bring in something new. I have been enamored of Fiesta dinnerware for as long as I can remember. My grandmother had some random pieces of it (from the original collections, no doubt), alongside a garage gallery full of Depression glass, some of which she used regularly in her kitchen and for serving guests. I loved the idea of bringing back a classic, I especially love the cheerful colors and Fiesta fit the bill for our “made in America” kitchen commitment.

When I started searching out the dishes online, I was quickly overwhelmed by the variety of colors and dish styles. Choosing a color became a near-impossible task, and amid the COVID crisis, availability was spotty with the usual online retailers. There are a couple of places in town that I could see and touch the dishes, but their options were also limited. Why not go straight to the manufacturer’s website, I thought, and see if their selection was better? That’s when I discovered that the Fiesta Factory has an annual “tent sale” at the manufacturing facility in West Virginia, and it was only a few weeks away!

I’d have to drive, I reasoned, because I would need to transport my purchases home. But my husband, Les, would not be able to accompany me, and going alone would not be as joyful. And that’s when a miracle happened! It was just after I had posted the Mexican street corn hash and eggs for Better Breakfast Month, and my friend, Peg, had commented on the dish, and the dish! It made me happy to know that someone else appreciated the Garden Harvest dishes that had been part of my cooking journey for so long. We connected on the phone and Peg was thrilled at my offer to pass along my Garden Harvest collection, and even more thrilled at an invitation to accompany me to the Fiesta tent sale. We would turn it into a girls’ getaway weekend!

Just west of Pennsylvania, and kissing Ohio across the river, that’s where you’ll find the Fiesta Factory.

Our journey led us across many state lines, as the Fiesta Factory is located at the tippy top of West Virginia, in the skinny finger of land between Ohio and Pennsylvania. We found accommodations in cozy Steubenville, Ohio, a stone’s throw from Newell, W.V., where Fiesta is headquartered. The town of Steubenville is anchored by the Franciscan University, which was across the street from our hotel, and it enjoys a flood of visitors every holiday season when it hosts the annual Nutcracker festival. Steubenville also happens to be the birthplace of Dean Martin, and so Peg and I set out on our first night to find a nice dry martini and raise a glass to the crooner.

Our best bet on that first night was a Bennigan’s, right in front of the hotel (the cocktail was just OK), and then we settled in, hoping for a good night’s sleep before we crossed the bridge (again) into West Virginia, where the Fiesta madness would begin in earnest, come daylight. 

Our visit coincided with a big celebration for Fiesta.

And that’s where we return to the colorful scene where this story began—the Fiesta Factory tent sale, an annual liquidation of factory “seconds,” perfectly good dishes—all with some miniscule blemish, and I can attest that it is difficult to find any problem with most of the pieces in the tent sale. When I originally learned that the tent sale merchandise was not first quality, I recoiled. But I got over that quickly, in part because I spent a little over a year in ceramic wheel-throwing classes, and I know that minor imperfections don’t have to ruin an otherwise beautiful dish. I learned to call that “character.” The other incentive to consider the “seconds” was the price list. As an example, a perfect medium-size Fiesta canister with lid is $59.99. I bought two of them, for $20 each! It just took a little digging.

Some of the dishes I bought had a tiny dot of an incorrect color. Others may have had a slightly lighter-than-standard amount of glaze, and so the color was not a perfect match to its companions. Another has a nearly invisible spot where the glaze didn’t completely adhere, and it is honestly so small that I must take off my glasses to inspect the dish. And that is after I had already found the spot previously. I could live with these imperfections, but the scene was still overwhelming, with frenzied shoppers with grocery carts everywhere and stacks and stacks of dishes, but not particularly organized.

The controlled chaos I described turned to fun as Peg and I began to follow the lead of more experienced Fiesta scavengers. We met people who have been attending the tent sale for as many as 17 years, and one shopper, when I mentioned how impressed I was at her knowledge of the colors replied gleefully, “Are you kidding? I’m obsessed!

Though we had already spent several hours looking at Fiesta ware, Peg and I couldn’t resist stepping into the Fiesta Factory Store, which was filled to the brim with all the perfect-quality pieces you’d ever hope to find. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I bought a few more pieces inside, including two deviled egg platters, which I can’t wait to fill up at Thanksgiving and Super Bowl. It just makes me happy to see all those cheerful colors! 🙂

Inside the factory store, things are organized and beautiful, like a rainbow!

Almost three hours after we arrived, we pulled away from the Fiesta factory with a trunk full of darn-near-perfect dishes, and I found myself contemplating whether to attend next year’s tent sale. But I’ll need a better plan (and perhaps a larger trunk), so I’ll work on that and share it here for any fellow Fiesta lovers who might be up for an adventure. Who’s with me?!

15 thoughts on “Fiesta Madness!

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  3. What a great time! Love all the colors. They will be a happy note in your new kitchen, and already filled with memories!
    These factory sales are great. We live not far from Bennington Potters, and they always had a large section of seconds in their retail store. I found many treasures there for no money including The Wonky Bowl. It was a massive bowl, I couldn’t even guess how many gallons it holds, and it was terribly lopsided. $5, and I’m sure they thought no one would buy it, but I did! I gave it to my mother and she used it for many years to proof her quadruple batch of bread dough that she turned into dozens of rolls for potlucks and our family gatherings.
    After she died, I got the bowl back, and that first Christmas without her, I made her rolls in that bowl. Lots of tears. But then I put it into service to hold dinner rolls for large events I catered. It always sparked comments and conversation!

    Liked by 1 person

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