CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- Veteran concessionaire Larry Hampton has brought a fresh look to the Amusements of America midway with his new smoothie trailer.
Hampton, the show's concessions manager, purchased a used game trailer last year and converted it into a food attraction. He owns about a half-dozen carnival games, but with that aspect of the business trending downward over the past several years according to Hampton, he decided to try something different. The winter project kept him busy over the offseason.
He invested about $20,000 for the retrofit, which includes a used soft-serve ice cream machine he bought for $6,000, a relative bargain compared to a new one that costs three times as much, he said. The machine dispenses Dole pineapple soft-serve, a sweet treat that's part of the operation in addit
ion to the regular smoothies, frozen cheesecake and frozen bananas on the menu.
The trailer's colorful tropical theme is the work of Jimmy Ellis, a carnival graphics specialist in Gibsonton, Fla. Hampton did most of the other work in Plant City, Fla., the place he calls home.
"I've never really had anything food-related on the midway, so I thought I would try the smoothie business," Hampton said. "Pineapple is the big thing. I decided to sell the Dole pineapple whip, so I needed to have one of those machines."
Smoothies cost $5 to $12 depending on the size and the Dole whip cup runs for up to $15 for a large portion served in a real pineapple. Chocolate-covered bananas cost $3 and the cheesecake is $6.
To date, the new stand has been a big hit on the midway, and as the season starts to hit its peak, Hampton plans to supplement the primary trailer with a smaller smoothie location, starting at the State Fair Meadowlands. The event runs from June 22-July 9 in the parking lot of MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Jets and Giants.
Elsewhere, the two smoothie stands will be featured at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus (July 26-Aug. 6), as well as the "strong fall route" for the unit run by Marco and Robbie Vivona that covers multiple fairs in the Southeast.
For Hampton, the new piece of business has helped soften the blow after he had some equipment stolen last year outside a motel in Florence, S.C., where the carnival's winter quarters are situated.
All told, it was a net loss of about $50,000 after insurance paid for about one-third of the stolen equipment, Hampton said.
"It's just one of those things," he said. "You have to work a little harder and get something else going."
Apart from the smoothie biz, Hampton continues to book his balloon dart, machine gun and water race games, but the revenue those concessions generate depends on the help, which gets worse every year, he said.
Hampton has been in the carnival business for more than 50 years after first hitting the road with his parents when he was 10 to 12 years old. They all worked for Earl "Chili" Fisher, an old carnival owner who played around Ohio.
At the Carolina Fair in Charlotte, Hampton's daughter Kayla helped him operate the smoothie stand. From there, Amusements of America headed north to Virginia and New Jersey, where last week it was set up in Roebling, N.J. before hitting State Fair Meadowlands.