Operations

These are the rising stars of the eatertainment space

At the Restaurant Leadership Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, leaders of Puttshack, Pinstripes, Alamo Drafthouse and the new Joy Trade platform shared their plans for growth.
Nation's Restaurant News Sam Oches (left) interviews Robert Thompson, founder of the new platform Joy Trade, which is parent to the Jaguar Bolera and Camp Pickle brands. |Photo courtesy of Scott Mitchell.

The explosion of eatertainment following the pandemic is driven by Millennial and Gen Z consumers looking for fun, interactive experiences. But the top brands in the space say food and beverage are vital parts of the equation, and most say they are building brands that they hope will bring people back for the food alone.

So said top executives of four of the leading eatertainment brands at the Restaurant Leadership Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Tuesday, an event hosted by Restaurant Business and parent company Informa. In rapid-fire interviews, the parade of eatertainment leaders offered a look into the rapidly growing niche and plans for growth.

Robert Thompson, a 27-year-veteran of the space who founded and later sold Punch Bowl Social, is now poised to open two new brands: Jaguar Bolera, a bowling-and-games concept scheduled to open its first unit in Raleigh, North Carolina, next month, and Camp Pickle, a pickleball-and-games complex that will open first in Denver next year.

Thompson announced for the first time Tuesday that he is bringing the two brands under a new eatertainment platform dubbed Joy Trade. The platform will allow the two brands to grow with the benefit of a combined infrastructure and enhanced valuation, and Thompson plans to look for acquisitions to add to the platform’s offerings.

The two brands don’t cannibalize each other, said Thompson. Jaguar Bolera has bowling, darts, “maker-tainment” options like crafting, and other games. It’s a smaller real estate play, designed for more urban locations. Camp Pickleball, meanwhile, is much larger—taking about 5 acres—and designed for suburbs. The hugely popular sport of pickleball also appeals to all ages.

The platform model will also allow for some crossover with the food-and-beverage program, which Thompson expects will account for up to 80% of sales. In fact, Joy Trade’s culinary is led by Denver Chef Manny Barella, who is the first eatertainment chef to compete on “Top Chef.”

Joe Vrankin, CEO of Puttshack describes his brand as “tech-infused eatertainment,” bringing mini golf to a new level with a ball that has a computer processor, battery system, GPS and is blue tooth enabled, so it keeps score. Puttshack holds a content patent on the technology.

Games are important, said Vrankin, but “you have to create an equally strong dining experience.”

At Puttshack, for example, diners might find Mediterranean lamb skewers or grilled octopus on the menu, which he described as upscale casual with global flavors. Vrankin said he expects first timers to say the experience was fun, “but I love to hear people say the food was so good, I would come back just to eat.”

With 18 units and another eight under construction, Puttshack also has won a $150 million investment from funds managed by BlackRock. Units are averaging about $13 million in annual sales, with some performing close to $20 million, he said.

Pinstripes, meanwhile, has been offering bowling, bocce and elevated Italian American fare for 18 years, and the company went public through a special purpose acquisition company earlier this year.

Dale Schwartz, Pinstripes founder and CEO, said the plan is to open six to eight new units per year with the goal of reaching 100 to 150 within the next 15 years.

The venues are large, between 25,000- and 30,000-square feet, and almost half of the business comes from corporate and private events, he said. Food and beverage account for about 75% of sales, and people do come for lunch just for the food.

“We’re a dining destination, unlike our peers, which is hard to do but generally speaking we have done that well,” said Schwartz.

Of these four chains, Alamo Drafthouse is somewhat different in that it is more a restaurant disguised as a movie theater. The chain has 41 units.

Chief Information Officer Danisa Tumbusch said, “It doesn’t feel like a restaurant because we’re so focused on film and the film aspects of our business.”

It’s a tech-forward movie theater where guests can order food and drink that is delivered to their seats.

Alamo is also known for special events and “rolling road shows,” like taking a giant inflatable screen to a place where the film was set. For example, they showed the movie “Jaws” on the inflatable screen while viewers floated in inner tubes on a lake—not knowing that Alamo had hired scuba divers to tickle or yank their feet underwater.

 

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