ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – You can get a taste of the wild, wild west at the Western Heritage Classic, underway this weekend at the Taylor County Expo Center. The vendors who make up the event, however, are returning not just for the festivities, but for the people.

When you walk onto the Expo Center grounds, lines were already forming at each of the food vendors areas 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 a steak fajita right off the griddle at Smokin’ Like Ya Like It. While visitors to Abilene made their ways in for the rodeo events and good food, the vendors are returning because of the people.

“You meet a lot of really good people here, and it’s a win-win for everybody,” Smokin’ Like Ya Like It owner, Doug Jones, said. “They make you feel like family, you know?” 

It’s not an uncommon sentiment, either. You can walk from booth-to-booth, vendor-to-vendor, and hear very similar stories from each owner and operator.

For Marti Wells, owner of Silver Concho Jewelry, she’s traveled from New Mexico for nine years to attend Western Heritage Classic, bringing with her, a little Native American flair.

“I grew up around this jewelry,” Wells said. “We’ve been going to Gallup since I was five years old, which is where most of the Navajos live and make the jewelry. I’ve always had it in my life, so I love it.” 

She said she grew up on a ranch and feels right at home in West Texas, especially when the customers she serves take a great interest in the Navajo artwork she brings.

“This crowd loves the jewelry,” Wells said. “I’ve just got the same tastes as they do 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, they’ve lost track of some of their regulars.

“It’s facial recognition first,” Russell said. “Sometimes we don’t have have a name to go with it, but my wife will turn to me and say ‘who was that?’ and I’ll say ‘I’m not sure, but they’ve been with us before.’” 

Serving their piping hot cinnamon rolls, they said it wasn’t the good food, rodeo and live music that brings them back- it’s all the regulars they’ve built relationships with over the years.

“We’ve had people that have been eating with us for 20 years,” Russell said.

Showing that a West Texan’s southern hospitality goes a long way, even during a small interaction like buying a corn dog.

Western Heritage Classic runs from Friday, May 12 through Sunday, May 15 at the Taylor County Expo Center.