In 2002, when Boston nightlife mogul Patrick Lyons decided to mix buffalo wontons, steak tips and creative cocktails with a fun pastime once relegated to beer-stained venues serving deep-fried foods, Kings Bowl America was born.
“Patrick Lyons, our president and founder, was a nightlife mogul who founded a lot of nightclubs on Lansdowne Street before moving into the restaurant space with successes like Sonsie of Newbury,” says Doug Warner, vice president of marketing and business development for Kings Dining & Entertainment. “As he matured, he always loved the idea of bowling. He grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and was charmed by the golden era of bowling in the 1950s and 60s.”
Fond memories and a sophisticated palette inspired him to remake an old movie theater at 50 Dalton St. in the rarified Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, turning it into the first of 11 dining and gaming facilities attracting fun-loving crowds and celebrities to its doors.
In this week’s Q&A with Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand, Warner offers insights into the very successful brand of restaurants/gaming establishments now named Kings Dining & Entertainment.
Q: How did Patrick Lyons come up with the vision for upscale bowling?
Well, as I said, he always loved bowling when he was young. But the places he grew up with had become dingy, with beer-soaked carpets and bad food. Many of them were shutting down. His concept was to bring great food to bowling venues, make them clean and inviting. The Back Bay was in our back yard and when this old movie theater opened up, he saw the space and decided to go for it. Everyone said he was crazy!
Q: King’s website states the mission is ‘merging genuine food, creative cocktails and social gaming.’ Please explain.
We think the central element of any social gathering is good food. That’s something that was always forgotten in the gaming world, where you saw a lot of hotdogs on rollers, foods in fryers, et cetera. We wanted to make the experience at Kings an all-encompassing one, where great food, made from scratch, led our menu.
Q: What menu items bowled a strike with your customers?
Our steak tips have been around since the beginning. They have a large appeal in our wide market, even in states that had never heard of steak tips before we came along. Our buffalo wontons are another top seller. With the wontons, we easily could have bought them premade. But, our executive chef, who changes our menu three times a year, forms them by hand, on site.
Q: And your beverage program is also unique.
We offer an array of creative cocktails to celebrate moments, from birthday parties to anniversaries, and corporate events. For example, we have big-ball cocktails that come with four straws in an oversized margarita glass and are designed for sharing. We also have a martini, which we call The Savage, and is rimmed with Pop Rocks for nostalgia. We also serve many great classics, like the mojito, but we try to offer a fun take on the classics.
Q: You now have 11 locations across the country. What’s your secret to success?
The biggest thing is our people and our culture. We are obsessive about creating a great guest experience. And we develop our staff in the company to give them opportunities to grow their own careers. We have many people who’ve risen up through the ranks. We try to hire people who are passionate about what we do, and I’d say they’re our “secret sauce” to our success.
Q: What’s your biggest challenge?
Running an operation as complicated as ours in a smooth fashion is probably the toughest challenge. It’s hard enough to run a restaurant, with food costs, and delivering consistently on a product. When you layer on entertainment, and coordination of venues, it becomes more complicated.
Another challenge is keeping pace with the competition. After we started the concept, the niche filled up with competition. We work to keep it fresh, and to work hard so we don’t ever become like the old bowling allies we made fun of.
Q: How do you keep it fresh?
We start by listening. We don’t feel smarter than our guests, and we take their feedback to heart. We also study market trends, and we’ve evolved beyond bowling, billiards, shuffleboard, and air hockey. At our Tennessee location, we’re have a live music venue called Whiskey Live.
It’s something our customers really wanted, and when you listen to your guests, that’s when the magic happens. —Kings Dining & Entertainment uses Boxerbrand menu covers in its table presentation. Thank you!