America’s foodie trend has transformed menus with locally sourced, high-quality fare — not only at restaurants, but also at theme parks, museum cafés and other attractions.
One arena where this transformation has yet to take hold is the roller skating center. At rinks around the country, owners and managers said their patrons still want the high-calorie, cholesterol-be-darned favorites they’ve always enjoyed, from burgers and fries to pizza and funnel cakes.
“It’s about the skating, not so much the eating,” explained Jolene Tartaglia, manager at Florham Park Roller Skating Rink in Florham Park, N.J. “People buy food out of convenience.”
That’s been the case for more than eight decades at Florham Park, which opened in 1937 and still serves the classics: pre-frozen hot dogs, pretzels and pizza. “We don’t grill anything, we don’t fry anything,” Tartaglia said.
The one concession Florham Park — and many other skating centers — have made to the foodie trend is higher-end pizza. “We found a better quality pizza, and since we’ve been serving that, people are actually buying pies instead of just a slice,” said Tartaglia. “It’s nice; a family comes in and buys a pizza and drinks, and has a night out together.”
Higher-end cheese and sauce have also upgraded the pizzas at Astro Skating Center of Brandenton, Fla., said Manager Bryan Rodriguez. “That’s the one thing that they do try to do that’s higher quality,” he explained. “Otherwise, it’s nothing fancy.” Rodriguez said the center’s clientele is happy with the basic concessions: French fries, wings, mozzarella sticks, nachos, pretzels and churros.
“That’s what they’re asking for,” affirmed Levi Hogan, who owns Roll-A-Rama in South Point, Ohio. “It’s high-calorie stuff because roller skating is huge exercise, and they’re starving. Nobody’s going to sell salads at a roller rink.”
Hogan’s patrons clamor for corn dogs, funnel cakes, and other carnival favorites to fuel their skates. But while they’re hardly counting calories, people today are more concerned about freshness and food quality, Hogan admitted. “I hear that a lot,” he said. “The whole country is trying to get away from preservatives and things of that nature.”
So Hogan wants to begin making his pizzas and burgers from scratch. To do that, he plans to upgrade his kitchen, which right now is only equipped to heat up pre-packaged, frozen meals.
At facilities that cater to kids, fancy ingredients are the last things on anyone’s mind, said James Ferguson, who co-owns Cumberland, Md.’s Moon Glo with sister Sherrie. The Fergusons’ parents opened the rink in 1959, and over the decades, tastes have changed little, James Ferguson said.
“Our rink is mostly young kids who are 16 and under, so hot dogs, French fries and chicken nuggets are what they want,” said Ferguson. “That’s what we’ve done forever, that’s what we’re sticking with.”
The picture is slightly different at a rink within an FEC, which serves a wider variety of patrons — many of them grownups, out together without kids, or even on dates. Fun ‘n Stuff Amusements in Macedonia, Ohio, serves more than a quarter-million patrons annually; like many FECs, it has a bar and lounge, added just last year along with laser tag, said Owner Bob Switalski.
FEC guests expect options. So along with roller skating, go-karts, an arcade and a shooting range, Fun ‘n Stuff also has a wide-ranging menu of fresh foods. Hungry patrons can choose from three types of flatbread pizzas, with ingredients like spinach and artichokes. There are fresh fruit cups, cold-cut sandwiches on ciabatta bread, and salads.
“We think that’s the way society is going,” observed Switalski. Whereas pizza was once the staple for birthday parties — Fun ‘n Stuff averages 60 birthdays each weekend, or about 2,200 each year — today salads and make-your-own taco bars have gained popularity.
Still, “people want to go out and have fun, and eat a lot of fun food,” reflected Switalski. He remembers how chains like McDonald’s experimented with healthy options, efforts that were generally unsuccessful. “That’s kind of died out, but people are going back to it more now,” said the 16-year FEC veteran. “This time, hopefully it sticks.”