What would a circus or a carnival, an amusement park or a ballgame be without guilty pleasures like cotton candy, funnel cakes, caramel apples, and hot dogs? Hurting for attendance, most likely. Because for most of us, at least half the appeal of those simple outings is the prospect of getting to indulge in foods that evoke a childlike sense of happiness no sensible portion of grilled fish with a side of steamed broccoli could ever deliver. Those treats are so intrinsically tied to the places we find them it never occurs that they have to start out somewhere else. In the Northeast, the source of so many of those fond food memories is a business that runs on equal parts hard work, new ideas, and good old family fun: Somerset Syrup & Concessions, Inc.
Owned and operated by brothers Bobby, Michael, and Randy Spitz, Somerset Syrup & Concessions leases soda systems to small restaurants and bars and sells a full line of fun foods, their ingredients, and related supplies and equipment to snack bars at community swimming pools, Little League fields, fraternal organizations, family entertainment centers and the like, as well as to vendors at fairs, carnivals, and traveling circuses from Boston to Washington, DC. “A lot of businesses choose not to sell to that market because they travel around from town to town, city to city, state to state.” says Randy. It’s not an easy market to sell to but it’s an interesting market. They’re good people. Hard workers. We’ve built strong relationships with them and it generally works out well.”
On a memorable Saturday some years ago, having those unique relationships worked out especially well. Recalls Randy, “My father and I had just made a delivery to a circus. It had rained the night before and the rear tires of the truck were stuck in the mud and sinking. We thought we were doomed. Next thing you know, here comes this big elephant. The circus people put a harness around him and hitched it to the truck. That truck was down two feet in the mud and the elephant walked it out as easy as you or I walk across the floor!”
Since the mid-1980s when their father helped the brothers get their start with the vending division of a Brooklyn-based concessions company, they have proven themselves able to pull their business out of a tough spots as well, and to keep it evolving and thriving through innovative thinking and a keen eye for opportunity. At first they were selling to small movie theaters, then to the larger chains, and producing all the popcorn for a growing roster of clients, including Giants Stadium, that extended as far north as Buffalo, New York. When the theater business lost stability they bought a fountain syrup and soft drink systems company based in North Brunswick, called Somerset Syrup. Soon after that, they acquired George’s Popcorn, a concessions company run by the eponymous George, a former Iowa farmer who introduced them to the carnival trade. (Asked if he goes on the rides when visiting those customers, Randy says he went on the Gravitron once many years ago “and I’m still dizzy.”)
As popular cravings expand and diversify, so grows the list of fun foods offered by Somerset Syrup. “The roots of our company were always dry goods like popcorn. Back in the day, nachos and cheese wasn’t even an item but now its right up there with cotton candy, funnel cakes, and sno cones. We brought on freezers and entered the food service side—with pretzels, hot dogs, cheese steaks, corn dogs, burgers, sausage—but still focused on our niche market. We’re not geniuses but we’re smart enough not to compete with the food service giants,” says Randy. That characteristic humility belies the fact that between them the Spitz brothers come armed with degrees in Business, Finance, and Economics, and experience in international relations that could place them in good stead anywhere in the world of commerce. But they like what they do, they like working together, and they know that their business is as recession-proof as they come.
Businesses in Raritan Center are welcome to contact Somerset Syrup about buying or leasing popcorn, cotton candy, hot dog, or sno cone machines and to provide treats for company parties, special events, or conventions. Visit their website www.eatfunfoods to see everything they have to offer.