Rita’s in Walnutport under new ownership
Jennifer Schatz and Kim McGonigle now own the Rita’s in Walnutport, making it a family-owned business. TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS
The Rita’s in Walnutport is under new ownership in the form of a mother-daughter duo.
Jennifer Schatz and her mother, Kim McGonigle, have taken over the operation at 405 S Best Ave.
A few months into getting the sale ready, Schatz said McGonigle expressed an interest in joining her in the venture.
Schatz said McGonigle has decades of restaurant experience in the local area, and as a result, built up a huge following of customers who followed her throughout her career.
“I always dreamed of having a family-owned business, and my mom and I are really close, so I could not have been more thrilled with the idea of us doing this as partners,” Schatz said.
Long franchise history
The Rita’s in Walnutport originally opened in 1998, and ironically, Schatz was one of its first employees, “and I instantly fell in love with the company.”
“It was the summer before my senior year of high school, and I applied for a job with the former owner,” she said. “I loved the product, I loved the business, I loved the customers … I loved everything about Rita’s.”
Schatz said she returned as a seasonal employee for five seasons while she attended college, and became a manager during her second season, which gave her the opportunity to learn the employee relations side of things.
“I fell in love with that, too,” she said. “At 19 years old, I decided I was going to own a Rita’s one day.”
Schatz relocated to Las Vegas to attend graduate school at UNLV. She said she loved it out there and stayed for 13 years.
In 2011, Schatz said the franchise expanded to the Las Vegas area, at which time she began the process of opening a shop by finding an investor, talking to Rita’s corporate office about the approval process.
“I ended up getting cold feet and backed out,” she said. “It was not the right time in my life. However, I never gave up on my dream of owning a Rita’s.”
A return to her roots
Last year, Schatz said she and her husband returned to the area.
The couple went to the shop to get a gelati, and the then-owner (her former boss from many years ago), was there.
“We spent a few minutes catching up, and I learned that she was ready to sell the business,” she said. “I immediately said I wanted to buy it.”
With that, Schatz started back on the schedule as an employee to have a chance to make sure it was still what she wanted.
“And it was, without a doubt,” she said. “I was so excited, and fell in love with the business all over again.”
To date, business has been booming, Schatz said.
“So far, we have been off to a great start,” she said. “We have been doing a great business and having so much fun working together.”
Schatz also credited her tenured staff that has returned for the season, including Eva Graver (ninth season), and Ashley Hildebrand (fifth season).
Plans to grow
Schatz said their intention is for the shop to grow even more over time.
“We have great plans for the Rita’s in Walnutport,” she said. “We plan to hold customer appreciation days, have giveaways, run daily specials and have a grand reopening event in the height of the season.”
In addition, Schatz said they are extremely excited to promote their drive-thru, as they are the only Rita’s in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas to have one.
They also plan to grow a catering presence in which they serve Rita’s at parties, picnics, gatherings, functions and other events, Schatz said.
“We are already working with some local schools and other entities for fundraising opportunities,” she said.
“We have been doing a lot of physical updates to the building, and are currently working on more renovations to make the guest experience as memorable as possible.”