By Chelsea LoCascio
For months, many students have been in need of a late-night food option that could deliver deep-fried sustenance to their door well into the early morning.
Luckily, the search is over.
Fat Shack returned to Ewing, N.J., last Thursday, Jan. 28, and vows to serve up fresher fried-food-filled fat sandwiches than they ever had before, the store’s founder and owner Tom Armenti said. The eatery had closed in April 2015, but now that it’s open again, students can get Fat Shack delivered to them Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 7:30 p.m. to 3 a.m.
According to Armenti, he and his business partner, Kevin Gabauer, both ’09 alumni of the College’s School of Business, previously turned over the Ewing location to new management when they were opening franchises in Denver, Thornton and Greeley, Colo. However, as alumni, the owners were disappointed with how the new management treated students at the College with little respect, Armenti said.
Despite the mistreatment, students were sad to see Fat Shack go.
“(I was) definitely very disappointed,” sophomore finance major Tom Franey said. “I knew that no other restaurant would be able to replace it when it came to its hours or quality.”
However, Armenti said the quality of the customer service and food was no longer up to par.
“I know a lot of people were upset when we shut it down, (but) I was happier not serving people stuff that wasn’t up to my standards. I’d rather serve them nothing than let them get bad sandwiches and bad (customer) service,” Armenti said. “We shut it down… with the intention then of re-opening it at some point — when we could do it right.”
During Fat Shack’s brief hiatus from Ewing, the Fort Collins, Colo., location garnered a lot of attention — enough to be featured on an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise” that aired on April 22, 2015.
“That was awesome,” Gabauer said. “(‘Food Paradise’) wanted to do it on the best late-night food in the country and they asked if we wanted to be featured.”
With the business thriving, the owners are planning to expand to Denton, Texas, by the end of the summer, according to Armenti.
“We see Texas being another big market that we can jump Fat Shack into and then grow it from there in that state,” Armenti said. “Everybody loves fried food in Texas, right?”
Before Fat Shack became a haven for late-night snackers throughout the nation, it was the College’s go-to source for fat sandwiches started by one of their own. Even earlier than that, Fat Shack stemmed from another small business, now known as CARS, in Ramsey, N.J., which Armenti co-owned with a friend back home during his junior year of college, he said.
However, Armenti wanted to take the business in a new direction and make it closer to the College, so he took his ideas and entrepreneurial drive to RJ’s Bagels in Ewing, N.J., and started running the first Fat Shack out of the establishment during the night when the café was closed.
With business surpassing its small, shared location, Armenti knew he needed to expand and open a full Fat Shack. He decided that Fort Collins was the best place to do it after having seen the area while visiting family, according to Fat Shack’s website. After experiencing success in Colorado, Armenti asked his friend and former Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brother, Gabauer, to help him run the business, according to Gabauer. He said he worked at an insurance company during the day and spent his nights on the phone with Armenti, organizing the business and getting a head start before going to Colorado.
“Tom’s definitely more like the ideas guy and I’m more (about) keeping us organized and getting everything set up,” Gabauer said.
According to Gabauer, Armenti is the one who came up with all the sandwich concepts, like one of their most popular sandwiches called the Fat Doobie, which is stuffed with chicken fingers, french fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks and honey mustard.
“It’s definitely a lot of testing things, which is fun. I get to eat more types of chicken fingers, french fries and all that stuff than probably anybody (else does),” Armenti said. “I’m super crazy about what we’re putting on the sandwiches, so it really is just a matter of trial and error. Trying out different kinds of combinations, trying out different sauces and seeing what works out well and then coming up with a crazy name to go with it.”
According to Armenti, Fat Shack has updated its menu since it was last in Ewing by condensing it to virtually just appetizers and sandwiches to ensure quicker deliveries. Aside from the new menu, both Armenti and Gabauer are excited about expanding upon their business plan to hire young, hard-working people to own Fat Shack franchises.
“(Armenti) started the business right out of college and so we have, and will always have, that young, entrepreneurial spirit that’s grown our business,” Gabauer said. “What we want to do is get young entrepreneurs into and owning their own Fat Shack franchises. We want to build the company with younger people who are super hard-working.”
Currently, four out of five of the Colorado locations are franchises owned by 21 to 23 year olds, and they are excited to get even more young entrepreneurs owning Fat Shacks, according to Armenti.
“I basically never wanted to get a job. I wanted to do my own thing. In the end, opening a business was probably 10 times more work,” Armenti said. “I started the Fat Shack when I was 22 and it’s obviously taken my life in a different direction than if I (had) just gone into a traditional, corporate job. It makes me want to help other people do the same thing.”