Funneling Fresh Ideas for Fantastic Treats
WHILE THE REFLECTION POOL FLANKED WITH PALM TREES leading to the double-decker carousel makes a striking entrance, California’s Great America added a new iconic exit this season.
“When you come to this park, you want to have a funnel cake when you go home,” says Wilf Seymour, food and beverage director at the park in Santa Clara, California.
Funnel cakes have become such a part of the fabric of the park, the item is a sales leader for the food and beverage (F&B) division, according to Seymour.
What wasn’t stellar: the location near the exit selling the fried dough.
“The lineups we were seeing were the longest of our food and beverage locations, especially at nighttime,” Seymour explains. Therefore, the park started from the ground up—literally—by bulldozing the former location and building the new French Quarter Funnel Cakes & Churros that opened this spring.
“It (the new building) fits in beautifully, like it’s belonged since the day the park opened in 1976,” says Seymour.
Facing the Orleans Place midway sits a new large picture window in the structure where guests can peer inside and watch F&B associates pour batter into the fryers, just like a candy factory. Yet, gone are the days of standing at a half-open window, waiting for a plate to be slid across the windowsill. The new facility beckons guests to step inside, where Seymour describes the service area—laid out like a trendy fast-casual restaurant—as “opulent.”
Upon entering, F&B associates greet guests with a fresh funnel cake and immediately begin escorting them down a counter where powdered sugar, whipped cream, and ice cream come as standard on top. New is the addition of a chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or orange glaze.
Next, guests have their choice of 16 toppings, which the park will change out seasonally, with each displayed behind glass.
The basic treat made with two toppings is priced at $11.99. Four toppings cost $13.99, with each additional topping
During special events like “Halloween Haunt” and the Christmas-themed “WinterFest,” additional toppings will be added.
“Our guests will feel like they are a part of the whole experience,” says California’s Great America Executive Chef Erick Ponce. “You could walk up to a counter and say, ‘I want a No. 7 combo’ like you would at a fast-food place, but there’s really no personal touch to that.”
The customizable process is reminiscent of ordering at a fast-casual burrito restaurant or made-to-order personal pizza location. “This is the direction we’re going here,” Ponce adds.
At the end of the line, a new patio with seating is designed to give diners a destination and pull them outside—keeping the line moving.
To add extra capacity, Seymour worked with Cedar Fair’s Planning and Design team in Sandusky, Ohio, to build in a second serving line, with triple the production space of the former location. Some of that space will be used to create weekly specials, like a unicorn funnel cake made from rainbow whipped cream and an upside-down waffle cone, and a sweet and savory version covered in pulled pork and barbecue sauce (first tested and given a thumbs-up by the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) at a special event last summer).
Seymour says adding a new facility also signals an opportunity for F&B managers to look at trends in their market and capitalize on them.
“The churro sundae is a new phenomenon that is growing bigger and bigger in California, and we’re proud to present a new version of that,” says Seymour, who traveled the state sampling churros at other attractions.
The made-to-order churros are created from the same batter as the funnel cakes to keep things easy for F&B associates. An edible bowl (imagine a waffle cone-red velvet cake mix) holding ice cream and churros covered in custom toppings is also available.
“The options are endless. We want guests to come in and fulfill their funnel cake and churro fantasies,” jokes Ponce.
To make a more personable experience resonate, Seymour says the seasonal staff at a new location needs to be superb. Therefore, the staff at French Quarter Funnel Cakes & Churros are all returning seasonal employees. This season, he handpicked the team that is charged with providing world-class guest service.
“Each one of them has been chosen for their personality—they are very outgoing, they’re very excited,” says Seymour.
Rooted in the high-tech region of Silicon Valley—responsible for smartphones and self-driving cars—the new dining location’s funnel cake and churro innovations are inspired by park guests, Ponce says.
“I use them as my inspiration,” he says. “When they see positive change, they feel as if they made that change.”
He hints the fast-casual style of serving funnel cakes may spread to other Cedar Fair parks in the future, since the concept places emphasis on greater guest satisfaction.
“If they can leave the park with the lasting memory of their funnel cake, then we’ve done our job well,” Ponce concludes.