Operations

Pickleball-themed Camp Pickle has unlocked $200M for growth

The concept from Punch Bowl Social founder Robert Thompson isn't scheduled to debut until next year, but it has attracted some powerful investors from both the restaurant and the pickleball world.
camp pickle
A rendering of a Camp Pickle campus, which will include courts and a robust food-and-beverage operation. | Rendering courtesy of Camp Pickle

The pickleball-themed eatertainment space is continuing to heat up—or, as pickleballers say, it is having a great rally.

The yet-to-debut Camp Pickle concept has "unlocked" a total of $200 million for growth from investors that include mall-operator The Simon Property Group, and pickleball-friendly venture capital firms Good Alpha and Align Ventures, concept creator Robert Thompson said Thursday.

Thompson said a recent undisclosed amount of capital taken in at the parent company and unit level has unlocked related developer and in-kind capital, which, when combined, will give the company access to $200 million.

The investor group also includes two restaurant industry veterans: Bill Allen, who co-founded Fleming’s steakhouse and is former CEO of Bloomin’ Brands; and Steve King, the former CEO of Dave & Buster’s.

Both will serve on the board of Camp Pickle Growth Co., the parent of the Camp Pickle brand and sister concept Jaguar Bolera, another of Thompson’s eatertainment concepts that will also debut next year.

Camp Pickle interior

Camp Pickle sites could include both indoor and outdoor courts. | Rendering courtesy of Camp Pickle

Thompson is also the founder of Punch Bowl Social, an eatertainment chain that once showed great promise and won an investment from Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. Then the pandemic made eatertainment a less attractive investment. Cracker Barrel divested and Punch Bowl was forced into bankruptcy. Thompson stepped down as CEO in 2020.

The huge interest in pickleball, however, has brought Thompson back to the eatertainment segment, and now Camp Pickle will serve as the flagship brand for a platform company that could bring in more brands through acquisition, he said.

Camp Pickle, which will debut first in Centennial, Colo., in fall 2024, will grow with two formats: a larger 70,000-square-foot campus that might include indoor and outdoor courts; and a smaller box in the 40,000- to 48,000-square-foot range, which will allow the brand to go into more urban markets, Thompson said.

Both will include a from-scratch kitchen food-and-beverage operation, which is expected to account for about 80% of sales. Camp Pickle will also likely include elements of Jaguar Bolera, such as bowling, darts or karaoke—and conversely Jaguar locations might include a pickleball court.

In Raleigh, N.C., for example, a planned Jaguar Bolera has been expanded from roughly 20,000 square feet in the initial plan to about 51,000 square feet, and will include five pickleball courts and a large outdoor garden. That location is scheduled to open in the spring of 2024.

With the investment, Simon is planning to add a Camp Pickle to a pad outside a mall in Tulsa, Okla., which is scheduled to open in the second quarter of 2025. And there could be more Camp Pickles coming to Simon malls.

Simon has also made an equity investment in the parent company, Thompson said, adding, “We have a multi-layered and constructive relationship with Simon.”

As an investor, Good Alpha brings some pickleball prowess to the table. The venture capital firm’s portfolio also includes Major League Pickleball and the Mad Drops Pickleball Club, a professional team in Los Angeles, as well as the DUPR pickleball rating system used to rate athletes.

In addition to the Camp Pickle units planned for Centennial and Tulsa, Thompson said locations are coming to Denver, Huntsville, Ala., and Charlotte, N.C. He hopes to have 10 in development by 2027, he said.

Because pickleball is such a social game—inviting the sharing of food and drink—and venues are in high demand, a number of eatertainment concepts have jumped into the ring.

Earlier this year, the parent of the Smash Park concept won a significant minority growth investment (which was not disclosed) from private equity firm DCA Partners to support national expansion.

Other growing chains include Chicken N Pickle and Electric Pickle. Earlier this month, Knighthead Capital Management LLC, which is looking to buy a Major League Pickleball team with football champion Tom Brady and tennis star Kim Clijsters, is also backing Electric Pickle, which is owned in part by Eureka Restaurant Group.

UPDATE: This article was updated with more information from Robert Thompson and to correct the name of the venture capital firm Align Ventures.

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