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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Frozen custard

Frozen custard from Rita’s Italian Ice. Photo via Facebook.com/RitasItalianIceCompany

The year is only three days old and already another new franchise is set to come to Coney Island in 2014. Rita’s Italian Ice, a company whose tag line is “Ice, Custard and Happiness” will open a store on Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Broker Joe Vitacco tells ATZ he signed a lease with a Rita’s franchise owner for the 1,500 square foot space at 1329 Surf Avenue, on the corner of Surf and West 15th Street. The store is located across the street from Nathan’s and Williams Candy and is expected to be open seasonally, probably from March through October. The current tenant, a social club, will move next door.

Rita’s menu offers Italian ice, frozen custard, layered gelati, sundaes with a choice of 20 toppings, sugar-free treats, and trademark items that blend Italian ice with frozen custard.

Frozen custard is of course one of the lost delights of Coney Island. The dessert made its debut in 1919 when the Kohr brothers opened a stand on the Coney Island Boardwalk. The nickel treat was a sensation, selling 18,460 cones on the first weekend!

sundae with toppings

Frozen custard sundae with toppings from Rita’s Italian Ice. Photo via Facebook.com/RitasItalianIceCompany

Kohr’s Frozen Custard is still in business on the Boardwalks at Seaside Heights and Casino Pier on the Jersey Shore but Kohr’s has shown no interest in making a Coney Island comeback. Businesses in Coney Island which sell ice cream, gelato and soft serve haven’t made any move to bring back frozen custard either, despite the recommendations of old-timers. It’s ironic that thanks to a popular international chain headquartered in Trevose, Pennyslvania, we can look forward to the return of this treat to its place of origin and the celebration of National Frozen Custard Day on August 8th.

Rita’s has over 600 outlets in 21 states and is the latest of a growing number of national and international franchises and chains leasing space on high-priced Surf Avenue in the new Coney Island.

Back in 2012, ATZ asked “Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?” (December 19, 2012). Clearly, the answer is yes. Like attracts like. In 2014, Johnny Rockets, Red Mango and Subway Cafe, which are currently under construction, will join It’Sugar, Applebee’s, Popeye’s, Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins and Subway on the main drag of Coney’s amusement district. Also on Surf and in a category unto themselves are Nathan’s original 1916 store, which is a year-round magnet for tourists, and Brooklyn-grown Grimaldi’s Pizzeria.

According to the franchise’s website, Rita’s is the world’s largest Italian ice concept and opened its first international outlet in October in Shenzhen, China. The franchisor for Southern China plans to open 31 outlets over 10 years.

Rita's Italian Ice

Rita’s Italian Ice, Yonkers, NY Store. Via Facebook.com/RitasItalianIceCompany

In the New York metro area, Rita’s year-round locations are on Broadway at 92nd Street in Manhattan –the only store in New York City–and several locations in New Jersey, including Hoboken, and the Izod Center and MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. The majority of stores in New York and neighboring states such as New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennyslvania are open seasonally from March through October. Investment firm Falconhead Capital LLC owns a controlling interest in Rita’s, which was founded in 1984 as a Mom-and-Pop product sold from a porch window in Philadelphia.

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September 11, 2013: Subway Cafe to Replace Furniture Store on Coney Island’s Surf Ave

February 13, 2013: Thor’s Coney Island: Candy Retailer It’Sugar to Open Surf Ave Store

January 28, 2012: Lost Delights of Coney Island: Frozen Custard

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Cretors Model D Popcorn Wagon

1906 Cretors Model D Popcorn Wagon from the McWhirter Collection. Mosby & Co Auctions, November 16, 2013

On November 16, the McWhirter collection of rare antique Cretors popcorn wagons will be on the auction block in Maryland and a family that has been selling caramel corn and caramel apples for 80 years will retire from the popcorn biz. ATZ asked Bob McWhirter, 59, if he would miss it. The answer was both yes and no.

“I can actually remember being 5 years old and working for my grandfather,” he recalled. “My job at that point in time was to open up the bags to get them ready for him to use to sell corn as customers came up. I think I earned 25 cents or 50 cents for the day. I had a ball doing it. I was allowed to sit on the stool and talk to the customers.”

Joe Kitchen's Popcorn Wagon

Joe Kitchen on the street corner in his popcorn wagon. Hibbing, Minnesota, 1935. Photo via popcornbiz.com

The 1906 Cretors Model D “Circus” wagon, the oldest in Saturday’s sale at Mosby & Co. Auctions, is one of his grandfather Joe Kitchen’s original wagons, purchased in the 1930s. The sale has 21 lots from the McWhirter collection, including wagons, popcorn machines and parts, and framed prints.

The family business called “Doc Kitchen’s Kitchenette” was started during the Great Depression. Mr. Kitchen used to tease people that he was the only man he knew that had six kitchens in one house. After he died in 1976, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren carried on the business. “We all work full time and did this on evenings and weekends for 30 years here in northern Virginia,” said McWhirter, who brought the wagons to craft shows, car shows and county fairs. Restored in the 1980s, the 1906 wagon was in near continuous use by the family from 1933 until the mid 2000s.

Cretors Popcorn Machine

Rare Circa 1920 Cretors Popcorn Machine and Peanut Roaster from the McWhirter Collection. Mosby & Co Auctions, November 16, 2013

C. Cretors and Co. has been in business since the 19th century when its founder invented steam powered machines that could roast quantities of peanuts as well as pop corn. Cretors wagons were considered the best of the best by concessionaires and are prized by collectors.

“As I grew older, actually as we all grew older, we were allowed to make caramel apples,” says McWhirter. His grandfather had his own recipe for caramel corn as well as for caramel apples. “We made caramel corn for years and years and years. The recipe that was handed down to me was a scoop of sugar, a can of milk, and seasoning. I had to figure it out from there.”

Model T Popcorn Truck

1922 Model T Custom Bodied Popcorn Truck from the McWhirter Collection. Mosby & Co Auctions, November 16, 2013

Why is the family selling their heirloom wagons now? “We’re getting older,” McWhirter said of himself and his elder sister and brother. “The kids are all having their own families. None of them wanted to carry on so we felt it was unfair to the wagons just to let them sit in the garage and rot. They needed to be taken care of.”

A nephew is keeping one of the wagons, though he currently has no plans to take it on the road. “Right now I think what he might do is pop some corn for the kids in the neighborhood.”

Mosby’s live auction is on November 16 in Frederick, Maryland, but the catalogue is online and you can bid now or in real time during the auction.

UPDATE December 10, 2013:

The popcorn wagons did not find buyers at the auction and are currently available for private sale. If you’re interested in getting into the popcorn biz, visit Kitchen’s Kitchenette website for Bob McWhirter’s contact info.

Cretors Model A Popcorn Wagon

The Model A- Cretors finest, most elaborate and expensive popcorn wagon. McWhirter Collection. Mosby & Co Auctions, November 16, 2013

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Cotton Candy Vendor

Cotton Candy Vendor, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Sunny, summery weather is back this week with temps in the low 80s forecast for Monday and Tuesday and high 70s the rest of the week. There’s plenty of freshly spun cotton candy for sale in Coney Island, too. What’s open? Check out our post “Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round.”

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