Chill with 33 Degrees the Shakery

TORONTO – A.J. Hunt, city councilman at large and businessman, said he had a hunch the Gem City would respond well to his newest venture, 33 Degrees the Shakery.

The retro-style eatery at 805 Franklin St. is just down the street from Hunt’s other business, Gem City Pizza. Hunt also is a co-owner of American Hooligan clothing, and A.J. co-owns the shakery and smoothie shop with his wife, Julia. 33 Degrees opened during the first week of September and was an immediate smash, according to A.J.

“It was insanely busy,” he said. “It was overwhelming because it was non-stop. We were so grateful for all the support this (city) showed us.”

The Hunt’s vision was for a old-style soda shop, with a checkerboard floor to real phonograph records on the wall and posters of Marilyn Monroe, vintage newspapers on the wall and old-school stools and tables, were all designed to take customers on a wayback machine to another era.

The 1950s decor reminds one of the corner store where a person could go for a quality milkshake – or now smoothies – hang out in a booth, relax and chill with neighborhood friends. The retro atmosphere is complimented by a jukebox in the corner and vintage video games, including Pac-Man. There are even old school Coca-Cola bottles for sale to complete the experience. A.J. said the idea for the eatery struck him when he visited a similar shop in California.

“When we were in California, and there was a place called Millions of Milkshakes,” said A.J., adding customers could order custom-made milkshakes with hundreds of toppings resulting in literally thousands of possible combinations. “I’d never seen anything like that, anywhere. That was the idea, and we added smoothies, hot dogs and nachos. Julia loves the ’50s, and so do I. Everyone knows who Elvis and Monroe are, no matter how old you are. We wanted to keep our shop as authentic as possible. We love the retro look.”

The couple even purchased the vintage newspapers on eBay, while the furniture was custom-made in Tennessee, they said.

The idea was to attract younger people through the shop’s novelty as well as cater to middle-aged and older customers who would appreciate its nostalgic flare, said A.J. The other idea was to make everything from scratch using the highest quality ingredients, he added.

“We didn’t want to skimp on anything,” said A.J. “What makes (the ice cream) premium is the butter fat content,” said A.J. “It gives (the shake) its creaminess. If you buy quality and charge a reasonable price, people will pay for it.”

Both A.J. and Julia said it would be “insulting” to charge a high price for inferior products, and the eatery’s shakes are made from real ice cream and not a powdered mix. All smoothies are fat free and contain no added sugar – just natural fruit sugar and real fruit, said the Hunts.

“You can still come here and have a smoothie and even add some protein to it,” said A.J., adding the shop offers 10 varieties of smoothies, or patrons can customize their own. “I’d say we have more than 50 toppings for milkshakes. With all the fast food options – we created coming here as an experience. You might have to wait a little longer (than fast food), but you’re going to get quality.”

They both said attention to detail led to a surprising response from customers regarding one item – extra large, wide straws.

“That’s gotten a lot of attention – the straws,” said Julia. “A lot of people said they didn’t realize how (important) the straw is to the total experience.”

“There are dozens of places you can get a milkshake, but we just didn’t want to be good – we wanted to be the best,” said A.J.

“We want people to come here, hang out, play the jukebox and video games,” said Julia. “We’re also available for parties. We can serve up to 50 people, and it’s a great atmosphere. We also welcome kids, as there aren’t too many places for them to hang out.”

“There are very few places where local kids to people in their 80s can both enjoy themselves,” A.J. said. “I think that’s rare and unique.”

The couple said they also hope people outside Toronto will stop by, enjoy a creamy shake and just hang out.

“Maybe they will come here and then shop at other places in Toronto,” said Julia.

(Miller can be contacted at mmiller@heraldstaronline.com.)