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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 itself is 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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December 31, 2013: Amusing the Zillion’s Coney Island 2013 Year in Review

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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Souvenir Shop coney Island

Maritza Suriano behind the new counter at her souvenir shop in Coney Island. April 18, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

On Thursday in Coney Island, ATZ found longtime souvenir shop owner Maritza Suriano moving into Thor Equities new building at Surf and Stillwell Avenues. The most remarkable thing is that her storefront on Stillwell is pretty much the same spot that she leased for decades in the Henderson Building until she got notice to leave before the building’s demolition by Thor. The space is about three times the size of her former space, she said. The lease is for one season and runs through Labor Day.

As ATZ first reported, the building has two other tenants that we were able to confirm: It’Sugar, a Miami-based candy retailer, has the corner store and is expected to open May 3. Wampum, a lifestyle clothing brand and skateboard shop featuring 90% clothing which has two other locations in Bridgehampton and Nolita is slated to open in Coney on May 24.

According to the Coney Island Rumor Mill, a restaurant and bar with a roof deck are coming too but the name is top secret, though it’s said not to be a Hooters. Previous rumors have focused on Wet Willie’s and Hooters. What’s missing from this mix? The bells and whistles of an arcade or other “Group A” amusement attraction required by the City’s zoning in Coney Island. In the past, Thor Equities had advertisements touting Coney Island as “The Retail Ride of A Lifetime,” but has since replaced them with photos of the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel.

Groceries

Stocking up at Maritza’s Souvenir Shop. April 18, 2013, Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

The last time ATZ wrote about Maritza was in August 2010, when her business along with Popeye’s Chicken were being evicted from the soon-to-be demolished Henderson Building. At the time, Maritza said, “When [Thor Equities] makes the new building he promised to give me a 10 year lease, but I don’t know. They’re supposed to talk to me about it, but I’m still here waiting.”

After Thor CEO Joe Sitt announced demolition plans in April 2010, a rendering was released of a cheesy looking temporary one-story building occupied by hamburger and taco food joints. At the time we thought it was a ploy to get demo permits from the City and put an end to preservationists’ efforts to get approval for an historic district in Coney Island. The site is zoned for a hotel of up to 30 stories. Thor’s new building on the Henderson site was finished last year but has remained vacant till now.

After losing her space in the Henderson Building, Maritza relocated in 2011 to a cubbyhole of a shop on Stillwell Avenue under Cha Cha’s. In 2012 she had to relocate again and opened her souvenir stand in a trailer at Cha Cha’s Steeplechase Park. “I’ve been in Coney Island for 25, 30 years,” said Maritza, “Before Stillwell, I was on Surf where the grocery store is.” Her spacious new store has room for groceries and beach gear.

Souvenir Shop

Maritza surveys her new space in Thor Equities building at Surf and Stillwell. April 18, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

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April 11, 2013: Thor’s Coney Island: Wampum Clothing & Skate Pop-Up to Open in May

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December 24, 2012: In Thor’s Coney Island, Discount on Retail Ride of a Lifetime

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

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Lola Star Boutique

New signage set to debut on the Boardwalk: Lola Star Boutique. Photo © Lola Star

When we stopped by Lola Star’s Boardwalk Gift Shop on Friday, rainbow-colored floor tile was being laid and a humongous “Dollar Sale” was in the works. The fashionably skinny boutique was the only store on the Boardwalk open for business since the others are still being renovated.

The new look for the Boardwalk includes lighted signage replacing the quirky hand-lettered signs of recent decades. Both the old and the new Lola Star Gift Shop signs were designed by the shop’s eponymous owner aka Dianna Carlin. On the new sign, the ‘Lola Star’ is pink neon, the 3D clouds are outlined with dancing circus lights, and the face and star illuminated in brilliant color, she says. The sign will be installed in the next few weeks. According to Carlin, this sign is merely Phase 1. “In Phase 2 there is going to be a gigantic disco ball rotating on the roof with a 3D Lola Star on Roller skates standing on the disco ball!”

The Lola Star Boutique is also undergoing an expansion into the back room formerly used for storage. The “Dollar Sale” of toys and treasures from the boutique’s inventory continues Thursday through Sunday from 12 – 6 pm. “The most popular item in our dollar sale thus far are our action figures! Jesus, Mozart, Marie Antoinette, Van Gogh and more… usually $10 now on sale for only $1,” says Carlin. “We’ve also been selling lots of grow toys for $1. Grow a mermaid, boyfriend, sugar daddy, desperate housewife and more!”

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December 9, 2011: Lola Star Boutique Signs 8-Year Lease for Coney Island Boardwalk

November 15, 2011: Coney Island 2012: What’s New on the Boardwalk

January 2, 2010: Photo Album: Coney Island Boardwalk, New Year’s Day 2010

July 25, 2009: Coney Island’s Xanadu: Dreamland Roller Rink Celebrates First Birthday

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