Last night I was walking uptown on Washington Street, when I saw a familiar face. It was the red and white striped awning of a Rita's, serving their famous Italian Water Ices, Gelati and Custard.
If you aren't familiar with Rita's, let me introduce you. It was founded in 1984, by the Tumolo family in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Bob Tumolo used his mother's recipie, to create a smooth and delicious "Italian Ice" (Or as those in Philly call it "Italian Water Ice". "Italian Ice" is a fruit flavored frozen treat, made with slushy water, real fruit and fruit flavoring. It was a huge hit around the Philadelphia and South Jersey area, and Rita's expanded their operations until they eventually franchised their name and were bought out by Pittsburgh-based McKnight Capital Partners in May 2005.
Today, Hoboken gets the 400th store in their chain, owned by brother and sister, Shereef and Laila Hammad. I met with them both last night and we talked for a good 30 minutes about their store and their excitement to be part of the Hoboken community.
Part of that excitement includes a Grand Opening Celebration on Wednesday, September 20th. The CEO of McKnight Capital Partners is arriving to kick off the opening, along with Mayor David Roberts and the store is hosting an Italian Ice Eating Contest at 11:30am! There will be 400 free Rita's shirts given out, along with 400 free Regular sized Italian ices.
Shereef and I talked about Hoboken411's article about Rita's about a week ago. I asked him about the high costs of renting on Washington street and would this be a major obstacle in his store making a profit. He said that certainly the costs are a concern, but he and his sister have many years of experience in operating their mother's Rita's store, and know exactly what they are getting into. He feels that his experience will be the difference in making this a successful venture.
Rita's is more than just water ice. They have old-fashioned frozen custard, which is so amazingly sinful and delicious. Try the frozen custard. Then try any ice cream store on Washington street. You will absolutely see how Rita's is so delicatable. Want the best of both worlds? They also have "Gelati", where they alternate layers of Italian ice and their custard and create a tasty frozen dessert. Maybe in the mood for a cool shake? They make "Misto Shakes" which is a blend of vanilla or chocolate frozen custard and your choice of Rita's Italian Ice or Cream Ice. Oh, what's "Cream Ice"? For those with lactose intolerance, this might be the treat for you. They use a non-dairy creamer to make a tasty treat "without that heavy feeling". Plus, they have a sugar-free Italan ice on the menu for those looking to moderate their caloric intake. They also have soft pretzels and bottled water, along with Rita's Squeezers - a 6 pack mixture of of the italian ice (Cherry or Mango) and creamy vanilla customer swirled together in a easy to eat package.
Shereef and Laila were interested to hear that I was from Philadelphia, and they expressed shock about how many Hobokenites weren't familar with their brand. I told them that was the same shock I had when I moved to Hoboken when people didn't know what a "Tastykake" or a "Hoagie" or a "Yuengling" were. Only over the last decade have Philadelphia-based foods and drinks have made inroads to Northern Jersey. There are a lot of ex-pat Philly natives around here who are very familiar with Rita's, but they certainly want to get the word out to those who aren't familiar with their product. I watched over the night as Shereef and Laila explained to each new customer their menu, and offering free samples to people.
I joked with Shereef that it was like the old anti-drug commerical from the 80's. "At first you give it our for free, and then they come back to buy more." We both laughed about that, because we know that once Hobokenites start getting hooked on this they will love it much like many Philadelphia natives loved growing up eating it, too.
If you haven't tried it, why not go down to the store today? It is located on 121 Washington Street, 201-880-1767. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.