Amanda Zarrillo and Vito Zarrillo, Jr. are a Hoboken husband and wife who created Blast 7D — a fully interactive and immersive 7D ride. This one-of-a-kind experience is not too far from Hudson County, as it sits inside American Dream in East Rutherford. Hoboken Girl had the chance to talk with this couple to learn how Blast 7D came to be and the pair’s future aspirations for the business that their family is all-in on. Read on for all the details about this unique ride as well as more about how the Zarillos created Blast 7D.
Hoboken Girl: Where are you originally from? Why did you choose to move to Hoboken?
Amanda Zarillo: I lived in Manhattan for 12 years prior and [am] originally from Long Island.
Vito Zarrillo, Jr.: I lived in Manhattan for 16 years and was born and raised in NJ. We chose to live here due to our expanding family and a strong desire to live close to work.
HG: Tell us about your life in Hoboken.
AZ + VZ: We love it in Hoboken. We live in midtown. We are the parents of three boys: Vito III (17 years old — attends Xavier High School and went to Hoboken Catholic Academy); Rocco (8 years old — attends Hoboken Catholic Academy); and Enzo (3 years old — attends Hoboken Catholic Academy). Additionally, we are primary caregivers to Vito’s 87-year-old father, the original Vito, who also lives with us. Most of our entire group of friends are either Hoboken residents or have formerly lived here and we met through the Hoboken community.
We have been involved in all Hoboken sports, after-school activities, and have been parishioners at Saint Ann’s for the entirety of our time in Hoboken (since 2008). A typical night in warm weather months finds us sitting on our stoop and talking with neighbors while our kids run up and down the street, startling pedestrians with their friends from the block.
HG: What about American Dream made you want to open your business there?
AZ + VZ: We were searching for a location for Blast 7D and toured American Dream, which is owned by Triple 5 Group. We were very inspired by their re-imagination of the original site, Xanadu, into American Dream. We started the process with American Dream in 2019, so we toured the site in a golf cart when it was just screws and sawdust. Triple 5’s vision for American Dream, with its high percentage of entertainment and restaurants, fit perfectly with our desire to bring a one-of-a-kind entertainment concept to both locals and tourists. American Dream has many of “The World’s Largest” and “World’s First” attractions, so we thought bringing BLAST 7D was the perfect fit.
HG: What is your favorite aspect about living + working in North Jersey?
AZ + VZ: The proximity to our favorite things to do — beach, family, outdoor activities, and fantastic food — in an area of great diversity. Hoboken is so special to us because it is a fantastic community. Neighbors look out for one another and there is always a friendly face on the street to talk to. Our father-in-law will sit on a stoop to rest a block away from our home, and three people will stop to make sure he’s okay. It’s heart-warming and truly amazing.
HG: What did you do before this?
VZ: Amanda is a super busy woman— always busy. On top of being the brains of the financial operation behind BLAST 7D (she is the majority owner and we are a certified Women-Owned Business), she still retains a full-time role and career in finance as Director of Global Operations at Innocap, a hedge fund managed account platform. I worked in advertising, branding, and marketing in NYC for 23 years.
HG: What inspired you to get into this business?
VZ: It’s a bit of a “reimagination” story. After those 23 years in advertising, branding, and marketing for some of the most well-known advertising agencies in NYC, I (Vito) was laid off at 47 years old. Even though I loved what I did and who I worked with and for, I didn’t want to go back to the grind. I wanted to “be” something else for the second half of my life. I wanted to bring joy and fun to people’s lives. But I was nervous about how to do it and if we could succeed.
AZ: I (Amanda), coming from a family of business owners, knew starting something by ourselves and for ourselves (and our family) was the way we needed to go. So, Vito created the BLAST 7D concept and brand in an hour and a half. Yet it took 3.5 years to build. Vito was the creative brain behind BLAST 7D and I handled operations, legal, insurance, and finances. We found that our respective skills were perfectly complementary to bringing a nonexistent brand to life in one of the most daunting environments (pandemic, post-pandemic, and NJ bureaucracy) in our lifetime.
HG: What were your first experiences with this?
AZ + VZ: Building a business from scratch (on state-owned land) has been the hardest thing either of us has ever had to do. By miles. It takes a level of commitment, determination, and stamina that is unlike anything we could have ever imagined. We needed to navigate the many challenges and roadblocks that we faced and stay focused on our goal. It also has helped to have many amazingly talented friends in different industries and walks of life to bounce ideas off of. The satisfaction of bringing our ideas to life, as well as the great joy in bringing fun and excitement to our visitors, make all of the effort worth it.
HG: Tell us about your business.
AZ + VZ: BLAST 7D is the world’s first fully interactive and fully immersive 7D ride. We have a 12 full-motion seat theater that takes 3D technology and adds acceleration, motion, wind, and the element of competitive play as you blast on-screen “bad guys” to get the high score. We offer 5 separate ride experiences — some scary, some not scary, but all of which make you feel like you are flying, diving, jumping, and falling, all while you compete for bragging rights of high scores amongst your family, friends, or just the 11 other players. We have zombies, werewolves, creepy clowns, Godzilla in NYC, and robot cowboys in the Wild West. There’s something for everyone. We are also an option for birthday parties for those looking for a new idea.
HG: What is the concept?
AZ + VZ: The concept behind BLAST 7D is a portal. A portal into fun. Having five completely different ride experiences — from the future to the past to alternate dimensions and universes, we needed to have a concept that could thematically and creatively “hold all of them together.” The idea of a portal came to us as the perfect concept to do just that.
HG: How did you create it?
AZ + VZ: Vito locked himself away from the family household craziness, brainstormed, and an hour and a half later emerged with the framework for what ultimately would become BLAST 7D. The portal concept came first, then the name, then the design. We brought in a dear friend (and Amanda’s ex-volleyball teammate), Kate Russell, who is a retail designer and strategist, to help bring the idea to life in a way that people in the industry could understand it. Three-and-a-half years later, we exist in the American Dream Entertainment and Retail Complex.
HG: Where can people find your business?
AZ + VZ: BLAST 7D can only be found at American Dream — on the first floor, right next to Angry Birds Mini Golf, off Court A.
HG: What would you say makes your business special?
AZ + VZ: It is an experience unlike any other. We spent a tremendous amount of time (and money) on the design and build-out to give visitors a completely immersive experience once they walk through the portal entrance. The ride is extremely realistic and is a very intense approximately seven minutes of thrills. Riders can schedule a time in advance or arrive at Blast 7D to purchase a ticket at that time. We are also proud to be a small business within the corporate experience of American Dream.
HG: What’s something about you or your business that people might be surprised to learn about?
AZ + VZ: How much of a financial and emotional investment it requires to build anything big in NJ — and our space isn’t even physically large. Every part of the process, from the lease negotiations, to the SBA loan approval, to permitting, construction, and inspections, was a tremendously complex and difficult process. We learned a great deal from the process and will use the lessons learned for our next project.
HG: Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?
AZ + VZ: Universal and Disney. We used best-in-class thinking and imagination when bringing BLAST 7D to life. We have heard, many times over, that BLAST 7D feels like Universal and Disney in NJ. Walking into BLAST 7D feels like the same kind of experience that you would have at those top-tier amusement parks, and it was important to us that our store design reflect that quality and experience.
HG: Are there any other local business owners or leaders that you look up to?
AZ + VZ: Absolutely! We have many, many friends who are business owners in Hoboken. From restaurants and bars to CPAs to locksmiths to coffee houses. We have admired and received immeasurably valuable insight from all of them.
HG: What are your goals for this year?
AZ + VZ: To not go bankrupt. To smile more and worry less. To enjoy the journey and to appreciate how far we have come. More tangibly, to grow awareness of our business, build partnerships, build a stable team of talented employees, and to continuously delight and excite our visitors.
HG: What does a typical day look like for you?
AZ: Children. Work on BLAST 7D before 8AM. Work all day at my full-time career. Dinner with children, walk father-in-law around the block, back to full-time to work, then onto BLAST 7D, sleep.
VZ: I work every day — Monday through Sunday 9AM-11PM at BLAST 7D. Working in a retail environment has been an incredibly eye-opening experience. Hopefully, one day soon, our days will start to be a bit more balanced.
HG: What has been the highlight in your career/life so far?
AZ + VZ: Personally: it may be cliché, but our kids. They’re freaking awesome kids and we are so proud of how they are turning out. Professionally: going from having nothing to making something real and impressive.
HG: What are some of your favorite local businesses?
HG: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
AZ + VZ: Measure twice and cut once. The motto of a good craftsman works here too. We spent so, so, so many hours going over our business plan, crunching numbers, evaluating the plan and the go-to-market strategy — we spent months on that part alone. Have trusted friends or advisors try to poke holes in your business plan so you have high confidence in your assumptions. That allowed us to have something tangible to show American Dream (they evaluated us as well to make sure we were legit) to show our lenders (we had so many potential lenders but finally went with Unity Bank). But doing that leg work upfront gave us a hypothesis that we ultimately were able to validate.
HG: Anything else you want to share about Blast 7D, your business, or yourself?
AZ + VZ: We are a 2022 Mom and Pop Shop. We don’t come from any means to speak of. We have invested our entire life savings, and took out a second mortgage and an SBA loan. So, we are in it. There is no going back. We have all our chips in on this business. We believe, fully, that it is something people will want again and again. We may succeed, we may fail, but we are having fun with the process, we are learning every day, and we truly enjoy interacting with our visitors.