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Twisselman Enterprises Celebrates 90 Years at the Boardwalk

Charles Fitzsimmons
Charles Fitzsimmons

This year a key Boardwalk family celebrates their 90th year at the amusement park. As we salute the legacy of Twisselman Enterprises we recall the decades-long journey of their operations at the beach. The story begins in 1934 when, current concession owner Matt Twisselman’s grandfather, Charles J. Fitzsimmons began operating games at the Boardwalk. Fitzsimmons was no stranger to the world of amusement concessions—he and his wife, Ethel, had operated concessions down in Long Beach before moving up to Santa Cruz. During the 1940s he ran the Boardwalk’s Cat Rack (a game similar to the Knock Down game found on the Boardwalk today), Basketball, and Baseball games, and over the next 25 years he added the popular 32-table Fascination game, Skee Roll and Pokerino machines, as well as several Balloon Dart games. With his entrepreneurial spirit, Fitzsimmons was fond of declaring, “You can’t make money with the doors closed!” and “A fast nickel is better than a slow dime.”

Charles Fitzsimmons and Balloon Dart game
Charles Fitzsimmons behind the counter of the Balloon Dart game, 1950s

During World War II Fitzsimmons was a block warden, and even initiated putting blackout curtains on the Boardwalk so the lights could not be seen by potential enemies out at sea. The curtains remained in the park until the late 1960s because they made a great nightly windbreak.

In 1965, Fitzsimmons sold his game interests to Charles Canfield (future President of the Santa Cruz Seaside Company) at the commencement of Charles’s Canfield Games Concession Business. Despite plans to retire, Fitzsimmons went on to serve as Operations and Personnel Manager for the Santa Cruz Seaside Company for two years.

Esther and Charles Fitzsimmons
Esther & Charles Fitzsimmons, 1938

In 1967, Charles and his wife Ethel reverted back to concessionaires, opening Casino Imports, a two-story retail gift and souvenir store at the east end of the Plunge building (now Neptune’s Kingdom) that sat along the Boardwalk’s former Walkway 2 entrance. Their daughter, Audrey Twisselman, joined the family business and helped manage the concession. They carried items that were not traditionally considered amusement park souvenirs–it was a step towards elevating the guest experience and expectation at the Boardwalk. Another long-time concessionaire family, Marshall and Kathy Miller acquired the location in 1978, and transitioned it into Sun Shops several years later.

Casino Imports
Casino Imports, 1967

In 1971 Fitzsimmons and Audrey decided to move into food concessions, taking over Hot Dog on a Stick and Boardwalk Fries. It’s no question that this move was a success! Hot Dog on a Stick (located next to the Boardwalk’s Entrance 5) remains popular to this day. Fitzsimmons later added Chicken in a Basket and Corn on the Cob in an adjoining renovated space. When Fitzsimmons retired, Audrey continued to run the concessions while raising four children.

Hot Dog on a Stick
Hot Dog on a Stick, 1963

Staying true to the Fitzsimmons/Twisselman legacy, Audrey’s son Matt’s first job as a teenager was as a corn cooker at his family’s concession. Matt grew up at the Boardwalk and fondly recalls the fun he had as a child running around the back of house areas, getting to know all the legendary Boardwalk personalities, and helping his mother and grandparents.

After spending ten years in the tech industry, Matt returned to his Boardwalk roots and took the reins of the family business in 1992. Since then, Matt has worked hard to elevate and diversify the Boardwalk’s food options from the traditional “theme park food.” Today, 90 years after Charles Fitzsimmons opened his first game at the Boardwalk, Matt and his wife Paula own and operate three fan-favorite food concessions at the Boardwalk, Hot Dog on a Stick, BoardWok, and World Grill.

Audrey Twisselman
Audrey Twisselman, 1984

This year they welcomed the fourth generation into the fold, when their daughters, Allison and Lauren, joined the management team of Twisselman Enterprises. Concessionaires play an integral part in the story of the Boardwalk as we can see by the story of Twisselman Enterprises. It is these multi-generational family ties that make the Boardwalk such a unique and special place.

Twisselman Family
Twisselman Family, left to right – Matt, Paula, Allison, Lauren, Audrey, 1990s

“The contributions that the Twisselman Family and Twisselman Enterprises have made toward the success of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk are immeasurable—quality food plays an important role in the overall guest experience. On behalf of the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, we proudly celebrate their 90-year legacy,” shares Vice President of Operations and General Manager for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Omid Aminifard.

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