On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey shoreline hard, causing $30 billion worth of losses to area businesses; damaging or destroying 346,000 homes; inciting massive power outages and killing 37 people. Among businesses lost in the storm was the 6,000-square-foot Big Top Arcade in Seaside Heights, which had been a fixture on that town’s boardwalk since it was opened by Patty Hershey in 1976. The venue has since undergone a $2 million transformation into the Shake Shoppe Arcade, a unique combination of an arcade, a 400-square-foot, 18-seat Hershey’s Ice Cream ice cream stand; a 20-seat Snack Shack snack stand and a retail component.
Hershey retains ownership of the building in which the establishment is housed, while the Shake Shoppe Arcade itself is operated under a partnership agreement between Hershey and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PrimeTime Amusements, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based provider of video games and simulators. A third player in the venture is the Hershey® Creamery Company (also known as Hershey’s Ice Cream and not affiliated with Hershey’s chocolate). Headquartered in Harrisburg, Pa., the latter services the ice cream stand and has granted the Shake Shoppe Arcade license to use the Hershey’s name in the venture.
Meeting Spurs Agreement
After the storm, Hershey was initially uncertain of how—or whether—she could rebuild her business; damages to her property (including her on-site residence) and arcade games totaled about $1.1 million. But a chance encounter with Jody Yedman, an old friend who first served as general manager of Shake Shoppe Arcade and is now its director of operations, led her to PrimeTime Amusements’ President David Goldfarb. At the time, Yedman, a native of neighboring Seaside Park, had just been hired by Goldfarb to open a family entertainment center in the African nation of Angola and was in town to help his mother restore her own storm-ravaged home. Believing it was time to “give back,” he approached Goldfarb, a former New Yorker, about investing in the business.
“Living where I do now, I understand the devastation of hurricanes, and I knew it would be tough to bounce back,” Goldfarb said. “I also felt, as a native New Yorker, the pull to help, not to mention that I genuinely liked Patty. I thought it would be great to create something different—a one-stop shop on the boardwalk that would include not just a high-quality arcade, but retail and foodservice, including ice cream, because who doesn’t like ice cream?”
At first, Hershey was stunned that “someone would want to make such a big investment,” but her trust in Yedman, coupled with her belief visitors to the boardwalk would revel in something new, spurred her to enter into the agreement. Approached by Goldfarb about becoming involved in the venture, the Hershey Creamery Company, too, quickly fell into line. “We have 25,000 accounts, including accounts in Seaside Heights, and we knew the area had a lot of potential—that the boardwalk was a great location for a shop offering hand-dipped ice cream,” stated Tom Holder, vice president, sales. “Just as important, we wanted to do whatever we could to help with a comeback.”
Work on the new venture began in February of 2013, with crews of 20 individuals or more first working alongside Hershey—who incidentally is not related to the family of the same name that operates Hershey’s Creamery Co.—to clear the building of debris and handle cleanup. Props, including a 20-foot foam ice cream cone for the outside of the structure, were created by PrimeTime’s Prop Creations division; the latter also painted Jersey- and boardwalk-themed murals on interior structures. A carpet with graphics that replicate a boardwalk was laid as well. The venue opened over Memorial Day weekend 2013 and hosted some 1,000 to 1,200 guests each day throughout the summer.
Although the fact that the Shake Shoppe Arcade is a one-stop shop indeed contributes heavily to its uniqueness, each component has attributes that up the ante. In the arcade, one such element is the sheer number and variety of arcade and redemption games, a majority of which were made to be “Jersey-themed” through the use of banners and other decorative elements emblazoned with the “Jersey Strong” slogan coined as the state began its recovery from the storm. Guests have a choice of more than 80 options, with something for everyone from very young children with a need for easy-to-play, tame games to those who crave thrills and a major challenge. “We really have a very unmatched choice here,” Yedman said. “Everything is popular; it’s hard to name standouts. However, the crane games are crazy-hot—likely because they are bigger at the Jersey shore than probably anywhere else, and because we don’t fill them with a lot of junk, but rather with high-quality prizes, even inexpensive ones.”
Also rendering the arcade a standout from among its “peers” is the use of more valuable prizes, like iPads and iPods, designer goods and high-quality plush. The redemption counter operates in accordance with a policy wherein guests can compensate for a shortage of points needed to win the item they desire by purchasing points for one cent each. “This way, nobody leaves in tears,” Yedman stated.
Arcade options not available anywhere else in Seaside Heights contribute to the venue’s uniqueness as well. For instance, Shake Shoppe Arcade boasts the boardwalk’s only Mad Wave Motion Theater simulator.
For its part, the Hershey’s Ice Cream stand serves ice cream cones, sundaes, smoothies, shakes, David’s ® Cookies and pretzels; seating and signage make it reminiscent of an ice cream parlor. “Hershey’s ice cream has proven to be the best fit for us, for every reason we chose it to begin with,” Goldfarb said. “It’s of a higher grade than other ‘regular’ brands and has a true ice cream parlor taste; it’s also well recognized from all the stores in this area of the country that sell it and it has been around for more than 100 years. We don’t have to charge as much as we would for a (super-premium) brand, but we get all the quality of one. Plus, with the exception of the Rocky Road flavor, it’s Kosher right down to the cones, which is very important for our clientele.”
Meanwhile, Snack Shack’s menu encompasses such boardwalk favorites as hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken tenders and chicken sandwiches, plus French fries. To set the foodservice operation apart from competing venues and fit the facility’s overall upscale, quality image, all entrée items are prepared fresh daily using meat and poultry obtained every morning from a top-notch local butcher. Hamburgers are formed on-site rather than being delivered in pre-made patty form; to avoid greasiness, the operation utilizes a lean mix comprising 80 percent beef and 20 percent fat. Both hamburgers and hot dogs are served on rolls that have been brushed with an egg wash for added natural flavor and color.
“The only frozen item we use is French fries, and even these are premium—not the shoestring kind usually found on the boardwalk,” Yedman said. “We serve our own version of the classics. Our philosophy is, if we wouldn’t eat it, we don’t expect our customers to eat it.”
Yedman added that limiting the Snack Shack’s menu to just a few items plays a key role in quality control, while moderate prices, coupled with the unusually high appeal of the food, keep customers coming back. Some visitors, Hershey said, patronize the Shake Shoppe Arcade specifically to purchase takeout fare from the Snack Shop and/or the Hershey’s Ice Cream components. “We could get $9 for a hamburger, which is pretty standard boardwalk pricing, but we charge $5,” Yedman observed. “We want to prove that it’s possible to get great food on the boardwalk and pay an average of under $10 per person, not $18 per person.”
On the retail side, the candy shop—named Martha’s Sweets™ after Goldfarb’s fiancée-offers chocolates, fudge and other confections, including chocolate-covered pretzels, fruit slices, gummy candies and sour worms, to name a few. Popular among youngsters and adult visitors alike, Martha’s Sweets™ sold “lots and lots” of candy throughout the summer season, Hershey said, a feat she and Yedman attributed in part to the caliber of the product; fudge and chocolate confections are from Asher’s Chocolates, known for its use of premium ingredients. An extensive assortment of chocolate and non-chocolate options (for example, several types of gummy and sour candies) fuels the sales fire.
Also part of the retail component is a variety of merchandise, ranging from novelty items like washcloths folded to look like ice cream parfaits and plush animals that open up to become pillows to beaded and crystal necklaces, leather string bracelets and costume watches and watch sets. “Pretty much everything was popular this past summer,” Hershey said. “We’ll experiment a little and see what else might work, but we wouldn’t be a one-stop boardwalk shop without this ‘gifty’ piece.”
Unlike many boardwalk-based venues, the Shake Shoppe Arcade remains open year-round, welcoming guests on weekends during the off-season. The partners are currently engaged in community outreach efforts, such as the recent donation of 30 gallons of ice cream for a school ice cream party. Special “giveback” deals—for example, partial donations to schools of monies paid for students’ arcade play cards during group outings—are available. When Tourist Attractions & Parks spoke with Hershey in early October, Shake Shoppe Arcade had four upcoming birthday parties, a co-ed wedding shower and a wedding celebration on its schedule.
Next Stop: Orlando
Based on the success of the Seaside Heights operation, PrimeTime Amusements intends to bring the Shake Shoppe Arcade to other markets. A second Shake Shoppe Arcade is slated to open at the Fashion Square Mall in Orlando, Fla., in December. The 18,000-square-foot venue will have a 1950s theme; memorabilia reminiscent of that era will decorate the facility and will also be available for sale. Featured components will include a game room with at least 65 games; a 12-lane, upscale bowling area called “Drive-In Lanes” to tie in with the 1950s theme; a Hershey’s Ice Cream shop selling ice cream and gourmet chocolates; a snack area serving what Goldfarb deemed “classic favorite foods with a gourmet twist” and a full-service bar and lounge.
The Orlando venue will also serve as the prototype for other Shake Shoppe Arcade locations. While Goldfarb declined to disclose details, his plans for a third location (expected to debut in 2014) have already been finalized. “We think the unique combination of different elements under one roof makes a great case for expansion,” Goldfarb said, adding that in his new position, Yedman will oversee the opening of additional Shake Shoppe Arcade venues.
“We’d like to open four or five locations, then license or franchise the concept, but it is far too early to really talk about that,” Yedman noted. “Seaside Heights could not have been a better start, and we’re focusing on keeping up the momentum.” –