News broke this week that the Santa Cruz Seaside Company would not renew Twisselman Enterprises’ lease for Hot Dog on a Stick or its three other food booths. The local, family-run business had been a tenant at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for 90 years. Fourth-generation Allison Twisselman says the outpouring of community support from former employees and customers is “bittersweet.”
A corndog from Hot Dog on a Stick has been part of many visitors’ quintessential Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk experience for more than half a century. When Audrey Twisselman became the owner of the food stall in 1963, her parents, Charles and Ethel Fitzsimmons, had already been concessionaires at the Boardwalk for more than 35 years. Since then, two more generations of Twisselmans have operated the iconic business.
But now, while Hot Dog on a Stick will likely endure at the Boardwalk, Twisselman Enterprises will not. For the first time in 90 years, its landlord, the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, did not renew Twisselman’s lease for Hot Dog on a Stick or its other three restaurants: BoardWok, World Grill and California Wraps and Bowls.
The news was a surprise to Allison Twisselman, and now, more than a week later after she received notice, she says she still doesn’t have clarity from the Seaside Company on the reason behind its decision. She and her sister, Lauren, had been preparing to take over operations of Twisselman Enterprises so their father, Matt, who has been the head of the family-run company since 1992, could retire.
The Seaside Company issued a statement about the change Wednesday, but declined to further comment on its reasons for terminating the lease. “Like every successful business, our model and approach are constantly evolving for a variety of different reasons. This ability to adapt has been essential to our success for 116 years and will be part of our approach for the next 100 years,” it said in a statement to Lookout. “The Santa Cruz Seaside Company is grateful to the Twisselman family for their positive contribution to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. We wish them the best in all of their future endeavors.”
In an updated statement Friday afternoon, the Seaside Company added:
“Concessionaires have been part of the family-owned and locally operated Santa Cruz Seaside Company’s business model for decades. Over the years the number of concessionaires has fluctuated as economic circumstances evolve. While we value our concessionaire tenants, operating a concession at the Boardwalk is not a guarantee of multi-generational lifetime employment.
“The four food locations operated by the Twisselman family will remain at the Boardwalk and be operated by the Santa Cruz Seaside Company. All current Twisselman employees will be offered similar jobs at the Seaside Company with equal or better pay.”
When Twisselman Enterprises announced Wednesday that it would not be returning to the Boardwalk for a 91st season, it received a flood of community support from generations of past customers and employees. Twisselman Enterprises employed around 75 young people at its four restaurants every summer, mostly high school and college students. As a result, thousands of Santa Cruzans have worked there over the years.
Twisselman credits her father’s friendly, hands-on management style over the past 32 years. “We say #twissfam, because it really does feel like a family. My dad spent a lot of years making a comfortable, safe place for people,” said Twisselman. “Not everyone has a great family or people around them that are supportive and they can be themselves, so we’ve created that culture here.”
The company has employed siblings and even multiple generations within the same family. “We have letters and notes from employees that have reached out to say specifically that my dad, not just the business, has changed their life for the better and helped them grow into who they are after they leave our company,” she said.
Lookout spoke with Twisselman about the future of Hot Dog on a Stick and Twisselman Enterprises.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Lookout: What’s going to happen to Hot Dog on a Stick?
Allison Twisselman: Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for everyone else, it’s most likely going to be there. It will just be run without Twisselman Enterprises. We’ve worked really hard to get it where it is and we’re sad that we won’t be running it, but, thankfully, the community can still be a patron there.
Twisselman Enterprises will operate it through October. The Seaside Company will take over operations after that.
Lookout: What’s next for Twisselman Enterprises? Are you planning on opening other restaurants?
Twisselman: It’s definitely a possibility. We love having quality food, great employees and a great experience for guests and we think we’ve done pretty well over the last few years doing it. So maybe in the future, but we’re taking some time to process all of this and then maybe we’ll come out with something else.
Lookout: What is your reaction to the comments people are leaving on social media?
Twisselman: We feel like the community has our back and it’s great to see all those comments. It’s kind of bittersweet because we realize how much of an impact we had, which was hard to see every day while managing the company. It’s nice to see past employees and mothers and fathers of employees reach out and share that we have been a big impact. But it makes me sad that we have to leave and won’t get to continue the legacy that we’ve had for many years.
After seeing all the feedback and comments from the community, we want to thank everyone and tell them how much we appreciate them because they’ve helped us throughout all these 90 years.
FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated with a new statement from the Santa Cruz Seaside Company.
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