Two brothers’ love of bowling and cooking feeds Aiea Bowl’s success
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Aiea Bowl also employs four pastry chefs and sells about 50 cakes a weekend. Last Thanksgiving, it sold 250.
Glenn gets plenty of help, though. Part of the reason he moved back to Hawaii was to be close to his family. And The Alley is definitely a family business. “I spend six days a week here, 10 to 15 hours a day,” Glenn says. But, he notes, “My Mom is in this kitchen five days a week. She’s always tasting, making sure things are right. My aunties work here as well.” He points out that even his brother and co-owner, Gregg, gets into the act. “He’s a periodontist, but he works here two days a week. He cooks on the line in the kitchen.” Grinning, Glenn adds, “But he doesn’t bowl at all. We got him a ball, and there’s still no holes in it.”
They also do one big theme party a month,
Glenn doesn’t get much bowling in himself. “I haven’t bowled in eight months,” he says. But he clearly understands the powerful symbiosis that comes from combining good food, a bar and bowling. This combination is what’s allowed Aiea Bowl to cultivate its nightclub aura. Four nights a week, after 9:00 p.m., the whole atmosphere of the place changes. The lights go down for what they call “extreme glow bowling.” Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights are party nights at Aiea bowl, with live DJs, music, dancing, and food and drink.
Moonlight Mondays are particularly lively. “It’s targeted to the industry people,” Glenn says. “Waiters, bartenders, chefs. Level-H is here a lot. All the bartenders from Pipeline. We market to them.” The result is a huge party that’s been so successful that, on Monday nights, there’s a $3.00 cover. “In 18 months of ‘night club,’ we haven’t had a dead Monday yet,” Glenn says. “We average about 300 people in here every Monday.”
They also do one big theme party a month, usually a costume party. This month it’s called “Exotic Erotic.” Clearly, this isn’t your grandfather’s bowling alley.
Its size also makes Aiea Bowl a natural space for events, and that’s the area where Glenn and Gregg see the most potential for growth. For both events and the big theme nights, they collaborate with many of Hawaii’s most prominent producers. “We work with people like Rick Rock Productions, Level-H and No Way Out,” Glenn says. “We drive a lot of birthday parties and corporate parties here,” Glenn says. “Also fundraisers, like Big Brothers Big Sisters.” The combination of food and entertainment is crucial, of course, but it’s the capacity that sets Aiea Bowl apart as a venue. Glenn notes, “It’s a facility that can hold 450 people. Big groups, like Servco or Hyatt, will come with 350 people.”
Aiea Bowl is part of an industry trend away from traditional bowling centers and toward boutique bowling centers, facilities with 16 to 18 lanes that use music, parties and events to target the 21-and-over crowd. Joel Roussin, an expert who covers the California and Hawaii markets for industry giant AMF, believes Hawaii is ripe for more of these centers, despite the steady closing of bowling alleys here. “To open a bowling center,” Roussin says, “I normally want to have about 2,000 people per lane living within a five-mile radius. For a 24-lane center, like Aiea Bowl, that means a population of about 48,000 people.” By industry standards, then, it’s easy to see that Oahu is underserved. But it’s hard to weigh those numbers against the closings of Waialae Bowl, Kam Bowl, Kalihi Bowl and the impending closure of Pali Lanes. According to Roussin, that’s because these centers are just too old-fashioned. He says, “What people see is traditional bowling centers closing, so they think bowling is dying. But that’s not the case.” Of course, it remains to be seen if even a boutique center, like Aiea Bowl, can really make it in the Hawaii market.
Business at Aiea Bowl has grown faster than the Uyedas expected. Glenn estimates that they’ve roughly doubled the Mako’s gross income over three years. “I guess that’s an increase of about 25 percent a year,” he says. But that growth comes with its own set of problems. First of all, it’s expensive. Glenn’s brother, Gregg, points out that, at around $48,000 a month, the rent has probably doubled from what Mako paid. But, at least that cost is really fixed. It’s the steady rise in the other so-called fixed costs that hurt the most. “For example,” Gregg says, “in the past year or so, we’ve also almost doubled our electric bill, which runs between $15,000 and $20,000 a month.”
Both Gregg and Glenn say they’ve learned some valuable lessons in the past 18 months. Like his brother, Glenn believes the greatest challenge is keeping the cost of overhead down, not an easy task with 64 employees. “We’re really trying to improve our cost accounting,” he says. “We need to have a better idea where we’re making money and where we’re not.” But he wants to avoid false economies. “The thing I really believe in is marketing,” he says. “I’ve noticed that when I put a coupon out there, it comes back in volume.” The company devotes 10 percent of revenue to marketing, he says, advertising heavily in newspapers and weeklies and on radio. He also has a monthly cooking show on KHON-2. But he notes that part of marketing is also internal. “In the past, we had a lot of issues with service,” he says. “We’re really working on improving our customers’ experience.”
This focus on the customer is reflected in Aiea Bowl’s prices. “They’re charging in L.A. almost double what we charge,” Gregg says. Although he knows Hawaii’s economy is worsening and they’ll eventually have to raise the prices, for now at least, you can still bowl for $3.50 a game.
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