Since they bought Fanci Freez in 2008, Chris and Meagan Bauer have updated the North End eatery's exterior, refurbished the iconic neon sign out front, expanded their menu and hours, and built a heated tent on a nearby parcel of land owned by the First Baptist Church. They even bought a portion of Big Bun, a similar burger joint on the Bench. Warm weather always brings change to the State Street restaurant: Patrons order more of Fanci Freeze's famous Boston milkshakes and fewer fried foods. This year, the couple is rolling out a new menu item, fruit smoothies, to better serve dairy-free patrons beginning in the last week of May.
What's going to be your core lineup of smoothie flavors?
Meagan: We're going to have five set flavors and then just a small list of one thing you can choose from so you can mix and match. But I'm going to keep it limited so things don't get crazy. We're going to do a pina colada, a mixed berry, like a choco-fruit one, strawberry banana. So that should start in about two weeks.
How long have patrons been asking for smoothies?
Chris: There's been huge demand for the last couple of years. We've had people, they stop by, "Do you have smoothies?" They're out because they're non-dairy. There's so many health-conscious people in the North End, and we've had to get gluten-free buns. Lettuce wraps, a ton of gardenburgers.
Meagan: We've noticed that in the peak of July, the hottest days of the year, it kind of mellows out a little bit. You'd think the hotter it is outside, the more ice cream would sell, but it's so sugary that less people buy it. I think the smoothies will help offset that.
How many ice cream flavors do you have?
Chris: The 55 shake flavors, that's where we really drive our business. We're getting close to where we're pushing 100,000 shakes per year. I don't know if we'll get there this year, but we're really, really close. When we took over, they were probably only selling 20,000-25,000. Our Boston shakes are 30 percent of our business for the whole year.
Meagan: It scares some people to order the Boston shake. Some people are intimidated by it. They don't understand if they've never had a Boston shake, so they don't understand the concept. It's a shake with a sundae on top, so they're like, 'So, am I getting a milkshake or a sundae? What is a sundae?' Some people just give up and order a vanilla milkshake.
Chris: So we try to explain it to them, explain what a Boston is. We give them a couple ideas. Do you like fruit or do you like candy? Then we'll give them some recommendations.
How do you know when summer has started?
Chris: It's crazy, it's usually in spring, in March, when you get the nice, 60-degree days. It was May 1 this year: 81 degrees. We didn't have a record day, it was in the top two. It was the second biggest day we've ever had.
Meagan: You start seeing the high-school kids at lunch. You see 30 of them, rather than 10, and at 3 o'clock, all the kids get out of school and their parents drive them home from school, so that's a huge hour for us. And then the 6-9 [p.m.] "sugar rush," I call it. We had Rocky Mountain High School, Boise High School.
Who are your customers?
Chris: Kids. That's the cool thing about this business is that we're so close to schools. Our demographic is all the way from 2 to 92. We get huge business from St. Luke's. People come here a lot after the dentist because that's all they can eat. It's Idaho Power. It's the State Insurance Fund. The foot traffic here is just incredible. People are down here bicycling all over the place. Just walking. We have people coming down almost on their deathbeds and they went to Boise High and they're 92 years old and they want a shake.
You were in the thick of improvements and buying equity into Big Bun at the height of the recession. How did the Great Recession affect you?
Chris: For here, this place, that was 2008. It was pretty bad, but we've continued to grow constantly. This place has grown, probably on average since 2006, we've grown 15-20 percent. Constant growth. The winters were so bad here. Since we put heated seating out there, we've really been able to grow. We've grown in the summer months, but in the winter there's been a lot of opportunity.
What's the difference between Fanci Freez when you bought it and now?
Meagan: TLC, honestly. We're here. We own it. We're cooking the burgers, making the milkshakes. I was here 'til midnight last night scrubbing floors. Dumping grease. That's all it takes.
Chris: The old owners, it wasn't a full-time deal for them. They weren't getting their hands dirty, not like we are. Me and Meagan work 70-plus hours, and that's what it takes. Since taking over, we've had a single month when we've been down due to bad weather.
Tell me a story.
Meagan: We had one lady, her name's Barbara and her husband passed away and he loved Fanci Freez. She was having his funeral at the Botanical Gardens on a Sunday and she ordered 600 milkshakes for the funeral.
Six hundred milkshakes?
Chris: He was over at St. Luke's and he was in a mountain climbing accident. His name was Don Scott. He was over at St. Luke's forever and his wife, Barbara, this is where they'd come. They lived in the North End. This was their spot. It was his favorite place to get a blackberry shake, so she ordered 600 shakes and we had to buy these huge coolers, a bunch of dry ice. We had to follow them down there in a truck with all these milkshakes. We had six people on a Sunday morning making shakes.