Working in the finance industry in Chicago and New York, Michael Siniscalchi often found time to unwind by attending various eatertainment venues, like Brooklyn Bowl or Pinstripes.
Years later in 2014, while vacationing with family in South Carolina, he came across a rundown bowling alley, and the wheels in his brain started turning. Why couldn’t the full-service, upscale entertainment venues of Chicago and New York work in a mid-sized market like Myrtle Beach?
Siniscalchi and his wife felt so strongly about this notion that they placed an offer to buy the bowling alley, but they were rejected. Having moved on from this dream, the couple returned to New York but eventually decided to leave the city and slow down. Siniscalchi took a job doing portfolio management in Rochester. Then, out of the blue, the bowling alley called about the offer, reigniting their hopes. Life sped up once again as the two quickly traveled to South Carolina, acquired the property, and debuted the first 810 Billiards & Bowling in North Myrtle Beach in 2015.
As Siniscalchi foresaw, the concept did indeed work in the mid-sized market. Before the pandemic, the brand expanded to a second location in Myrtle Beach, in a space formerly occupied by a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, and to a third in Conway, South Carolina, nearby Coastal Carolina University. During Covid, additional stores debuted in Phoenix and Chandler, Arizona, and Houston.
Amid this corporate expansion, its franchise program was also beginning behind the scenes. The first two are slated to debut this year in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Greenville, South Carolina. As of last fall, 11 additional franchisees were under agreement and seeking out for real estate opportunities. That would mean the chain has enough planned locations to more than triple in size.
“[We] got thrown some hurdles with Covid. That slowed down the whole process,” Siniscalchi says. “Obviously indoor entertainment was hit particularly hard, but we navigated that pretty well.”
810 Billiards & Bowling describes itself as a “classic bowling alley with an upscale twist.” The venues, often second-generation spaces, include roughly 14–20 bowling lanes, 6–10 billiard tables, a sports bar, an arcade, board games, mini golf, DJ, cornhole, ping-pong, and more. The six current outlets range from 17,000 square feet to 43,000. Now, the chain looks for real estate in the 30,000-square-foot range.
Although each location takes a somewhat different shape, Siniscalchi says a common theme is creating a seamless guest experience. Customers enter through a lobby area and check in with the host, where they receive directions if it’s their first visit. From there, consumers have one tab that follows them around—meaning, if your group wants an extra hour in the bowling area, no one has to go back to the host stand. The main bowling lanes are near the front. There are more toward the back in a private space, which is typically used for corporate events and parties.
In terms of food and beverage offerings, 810 Billiards & Bowling “didn’t reinvent the wheel,” Siniscalchi says. The menu is filled with upscale, American bar food, with items like burgers, wings, and pizza leading as top sellers. The chain also has a full liquor license.
While the brand focuses on leading through the quality and breadth of its food program, Siniscalchi says it will go “a little extra” when it can. For instance, the Strike Burger features a char-broiled Angus steak, served alongside portabella mushrooms, bacon, Swiss cheese, and signature sauce atop a toasted brioche bun. Similarly, the Gutterball Pizza includes premium meats like applewood-smoked bacon, mild Italian sausage, and ground sirloin.
“We do our pizza in-house,” Siniscalchi says. “We don’t do any frozen dough or canned sauce. Everything’s scratch and the quality comes through and differentiates our food product from the other folks in our space.”
Siniscalchi believes 810 Billiards & Bowling can fit into multiple markets; it’s just a matter of tailoring to the existing demographics. The Phoenix and Houston locations are in urban downtown centers driven by young adults and nightlife. The upcoming Fort Smith and Greenville stores will be more reliant on car traffic and likely have a higher mix of families. The customer base dictates the programming, so if the venue is in a suburban family market, the arcade will typically be bigger.
810 Billiards & Bowling is looking to fill the South with franchise partners, particularly in Florida and Texas. Ultimately, however, the key is finding the best partner as opposed to the top market. Even though running an eatertainment concept requires more skill and financial standing than a typical restaurant, Siniscalchi says the company decided to franchise knowing it could scale much faster by leveraging the experience and systems of well-equipped operators. With that said, corporate stores will expand in parallel to the franchise footprint.
“As long as the market is viable from a demographic standpoint, we don’t let the geography get in the way of working with the right people,” Siniscalchi says. “We’ve got franchise partners in Sacramento and southern New Jersey, and Nashville, Tennessee. The geographical strategy is secondary to a people strategy of finding the right partners that can deliver the customer experience we want to maintain.”
To ensure growth, the concept hired COO Wayne Stancil, who previously worked as Main Event’s vice president of operations for nearly four and a half years. The industry veteran has already made an impact by building the real estate strategy, tweaking operations, and streamlining communication.
Siniscalchi also lauds the hire of national sales director Melisa Schisel, who entered the brand in July 2021 after past stops at eatertainment chains Lucky Strike, Jake’s Unlimited, Spin, and FatCats. With her presence, the burden of the sales process and communicating contracts is taken off the franchise operations team. This allows management to focus on executing customer experience.
In deciding whether to partner with prospective franchisees, Siniscalchi favors operators who meet 810 Billiards & Bowling’s primary philosophy, which is putting people first. Food and beverage experience is helpful, but not the biggest piece in the decision-making process.
“It’s about that brand core value alignment and understanding the bigger picture of P&L management, and basically having experience and bandwidth to operate a multifaceted venue that has different moving pieces and being able to understand what successful management looks like,” he says.