PAL AND PALS - Pal Fontana of
Reithoffer Shows attended a backstage party for Charlie Daniels and
Montgomery-Gentry at the West Virginia State Fair, Lewisburg, hosted
by George Moffett, Variety Attractions From left, are Moffett, Eddie
Montgomery, Fontana, Daniels, Frank Jolliffe, entertainment director
for the fair, and Troy Gentry.
April 23, 2012
BY Don Muret-
By Don Muret
The biggest news surrounding Strates Shows this season is a carnival veteran infusing new life into the 89-year-old company.
Pal Fontana, formerly with Reithoffer Shows and the old Royal American Shows, joined Strates about a year ago after parting ways with Reithoffer.
Fontana, whose family owns Fontana Foods, an offshoot of an Italian restaurant founded by his father Bill, has been instrumental in pumping new blood into the last remaining show riding the rails to transport equipment from Florida to New York.
Jim Strates, son of E. James Strates, could not stop raving about Fontana's work ethic during a recent interview.
"He's put a ton of energy into our organization," said Strates, the carnival's president. "We have had lot of people changes and he's been a breath of fresh air. This week, he's painting rides and four new trucks. We have crazy colors now, including a pink truck."
Fontana, a jack-of-all-trades, has done everything humanly possible to keep Strates among the elite carnivals in North America. His expertise on the German-made spectacular rides has been invaluable, and he pushed the show to get a new LED light package on the Giant Wheel, Strates said.
Fontana has also shown his creative streak by doing things as simple as revamping an old Coke truck with an abundant supply of spare parts that can be moved around the midway as needed. It cuts down on time lost trying to locate pins and keys for rides and the occasional stray worker who "takes three hours to find a light bulb," Strates said.
Fontana, through his family's business, is also a chef. Whether he is is cooking a meal for his fellow employees or tearing down the Giant Wheel, his ability to handle multiple tasks on the midway has made the carnival a better place to work and live, Strates said.
"Pal is of the same group as Wayne Kunz, who was recently inducted into the OABA Hall of Fame," he said. "He can do anything."
About three months into the season, Strates Shows officials have no complaints over business at its Florida fairs. The Osceola County Fair in Kissimmee and the St. Lucie County Fair in Fort Pierce both had their second-best years under Strates' stewardship. The Seminole County Fair in Sanford was down a bit due in part to the event moving to a new location, Strates said.
Similar to other shows, Strates is going through the process of installing LEDs on some of its biggest attractions for a cleaner, brighter presentation. The Giant Wheel conversion alone was about $200,000, Strates said.
There is a savings in energy but not to the point that the show can turn the generators off, he said.
The carnival is in its fourth season of operating the Fun Card system, a cashless program where fairgoers can buy unlimited ride vouchers in advance on the Strates Shows website. Originally developed by Funtastic Shows, the system is similar to printing a bar-coded ticket at home for a concert. The system tracks every transaction and prevents fraud by preventing customers from attempting to get refunds on a pay-one-price promotion several hours after they arrived at the event, Strates said.
The system also records the peaks and valleys of midway business on a daily basis, which in turn has enabled Strates Shows and its fair partners to adjust hours of operation with minimal loss of revenue, he said.
Carnival officials have discussed using fast passes, an upcharge that allows ride enthusiasts to skip lines but have decided against it, he said. As a whole, they see the promotion splitting their customers into the haves and have-nots.
"It leads to those 1 percenters on the midway," Strates said. "Do we want to introduce that? I don't know that we do. We have enough nonsense with people getting into fights and I think those fast passes would further agitate the situation."
Monica Walsh, Jim Strates' fiancee, is traveling with the show in charge of the company's social media campaigns. Walsh, with a background in advertising and marketing, is coordinating the effort to communicate electronically through Facebook and Twitter.
Walsh is also starting to experiment with Pinterest, the third-most popular social networking site, and get a feel for how the show can use the organizational tool to promote its business. Currently, Walsh is using Pinterest to plan her wedding and bridal shower.
October 15, 2001
Operating Fontana Foods, Working With Reithoffer Keeps Pal's Plate Full
BY TOM POWELL -
Pal Fontana, who runs Fontana Foods with his wife, Gina,
on the Orange Unit of Reithoffer Shows, has a legacy to
live up to.
The original Fontana Foods was started in 1945 by his
father, Bill, who came over from Italy and started a
restaurant with his mother, Virginia. He was a butcher.
"He catered to the White House, at Roosevelt's [FDR]
wedding and had other famous clients. Most of his
clients were jockeys and people in the entertainment
industry. People like Susan Hayward and James Cagney ate
But when his father got sick and things got tough, Pal
left at the age of 12 to help make a living for the
entire family. "I would cook for the fair boards and Mr.
Reithoffer and still do today." In 1988, he met his
wife, Gina, daughter of well known food and games
concessionaire Lionel Miller.
"She came up with the idea for us to get our own food
stand. The first one was given to me on loan. I was
partners with Mr. Reithoffer. Gina asked if we could use
an old trailer that had been sitting in the woods, and
split the money.
"At the end of the year, we went to give him the money
and he wouldn't take it. He said I could keep it, that I
was the first guy who had ever offered to give him the
money he deserved."
Fontana then had one built, and constructed another at
home. Now he has four Century trailers worth more than
$500,000. His specialties are Italian and Polish
sausage, pizza and funnel cakes.
Fontana has catered a movie starring Tom Hanks and has
worked National Hot Rod Assn. events in Gainesville,
Fla.; Atlanta; and Hebron, Ohio. Some of it is during
the season. The first track is before the show opens.
After becoming assistant general manager for Pat
Reithoffer III, GM/owner this season, he subleased some
of that business and hired his brother to help out.
Fontana can cut a rug as well as a pizza. He's an
excellent dancer, and is usually on the floor for every
number during the annual banquet of the Greater Tampa
Showmen's Assn. He bemoans the fact that people have
turned one of the best businesses in the world into
nothing but a business. "We used to have a lot more
There were no price increases this year, "and they
haven't gone up by more than 50 cents since 1988," he
said. "It can hurt you when you over-charge."
Fontana gets $4 for the sausage sandwiches. He sells
mainly Coca-Cola products and receives $4 for a
refillable cup and $1 for refills. "I like Coke because
they're a great supplier to our industry. They have
always been in touch more than anybody else who has come
in. They offer tops and do things for not just the big
guys, but the small guys, too."
Water — in 24-ounce sports bottles — along with French
fries, hot dogs, corn dogs and hamburgers sell for $2.
"I'm a firm believer in using the best ingredients. I
learned that from my father. I have my own sausage with
the USDA label, made by Ferrante Bros. of Washington, D.
C. I send a truck to get a thousand pounds at a time.
Another supplier is Somerset Syrup out of Edison, N.J.,
for all his dry goods such as funnel cake mix, lemonade
and fruit punch."
The Fontanas have five children — Samantha, 21; Dustin,
16; Ronnie, 12; Gina Marie, 10; and Kayla, 7. "We
operate mainly with family. When we get in a pinch, I
call my nephews or other relatives. I try to make all my
people key people.
"Everybody says it's hard to find good help. It's not
hard to find them. You just have to treat them right
after they're hired. Some people want to bring them in,
yell at them and call them names. The way they're
treated is the problem.
"You can take a halfway decent person, build them up and
make them something, or go the other way. If help
doesn't like me, they don't tell me. That's standard
policy. I have never had a help issue. Everybody likes
to work for me."
Fontana said his wife knows more about the food business
than he does. "She was born and raised in it and taught
me the carnival end. I did know how to cook and make a
living. I give her credit. She is my inspiration."
Fontana's father-in-law, Lionel, has four or five joints
and plays with Reithoffer in the spring and with Strates
every now and then.
After being a ride operator in Kiddieland, Fontana moved
to major rides and then spectaculars. By 1979 he was
considered a European ride, electronic and computer
specialist on the show. He is credited with moving the
first park model Himalaya and roller coaster in the
industry for Reithoffer.
He treasures a plaque he received from the show for 30
years of devotion. Robin Turner, president of Fair
Management Inc., Rockledge, Fla., wrote that Fontana's
food stands are always in top condition, clean and
attractive. His help is well trained, groomed and
"Pal is a promoter, very savvy. He prints discount
coupons and advertises them. No other food
concessionaire goes out of his way to promote his stands