Customer Story: Pinstripes

Customer Story: Pinstripes

The following article, titled “All Dressed Up and Everywhere to Go,” was written by Barry Sparks and was originally published in the April 2018 issue of Bowling Center Management magazine.

 

In slightly more than 10 years, Pinstripes has grown from its original Northbrook venue in the Chicago area to eight locations. Pinstripes is known for its combination of bowling, bocce, made-from-scratch food, extensive wine list, craft beers and outstanding service. Today, other Pinstripes locations include South Barrington, Ill.; Edina, Minn.; Oak Brook, Ill.; Georgetown, Washington, D.C.; North Bethesda, Md.; Chicago and Overland Park, Kan. Plans call for opening Pinstripes in Fort Worth, Cleveland, Houston, Dallas, Nashville and San Mateo, Calif., in the next few years.

 

Dale Schwartz, founder and CEO of Pinstripes, says the company plans to open four to five locations per year, starting in 2019, with the goal of 100 locations in North America. He says active discussions are underway for possible international markets.

 

Schwartz says the company’s strategic vision, that, “Pinstripes will offer people an alternative way to connect with others and have fun,” has fueled the company’s growth. “We focus on the human-to-human connection,” he says. “Today, people are less connected than ever because of smart phones and the internet. People just don’t spend time socializing. We want to go back to the future and connect people through games, as well as quality food and drink.”

 

He says he has talked to many people who agree with the premise of the book, Bowling Alone, which describes the disintegration of many social and religious structures along with communities. That has led to fewer connections and less socialization.

 

“Today, people are less connected than ever because of smart phones and the internet. People just don’t spend time socializing. We want to go back to the future and connect people through games, as well as quality food and drink.”

 

Schwartz says remembering the fun he had bowling in a kids’ league in Cleveland more than 45 years ago sparked a journey to re-create that nostalgic and fun connection with others that most people seek.

 

According to Schwartz, the name Pinstripes, which he coined more than 30 years ago, is a play on the bowling “pin” and is intended to generate an upscale image, given the association with “pinstripe” formal attire.

 

He believes the Pinstripes concept provides a unique alternative to just going to dinner or to the movies. “We want Pinstripes to be a memorable experience, so customers will want to come back,” says Schwartz. “In fact, we want it to be more than memorable. We want it to be sticky, something they can’t shake. We want the urge to return to be powerful.” When customers leave, Schwartz says he wants to hear them say things like:

“We had fun. We need to come back and do it again.”

“We have to come back and try bocce.”

“Oh my God, the food was fabulous.”

“Did you see that wedding reception? We have to have our next special event here.”

 

Chris Soukup, Chief Operations Officer for Pinstripes, says the company emphasizes sophisticated fun. “You don’t usually hear those two words together,” he says. “But they are a great combination. We combine scratch food, beverages and recreation in a community environment. It’s a great escape from everyday life.”

 

He believes the Pinstripes concept provides a unique alternative to just going to dinner or to the movies. “We want Pinstripes to be a memorable experience, so customers will want to come back,” says Schwartz.

 

He points out that one Pinstripes location has a group of 40 to 50 women who come to play cards regularly and have lunch. Each Pinstripes venue also hosts more than 2,000 events a year, including wedding receptions, corporate parties and special occasions.

 

One of the differentiators for Pinstripes is that food and beverage revenue drives the operation, according to Soukup. “Food and beverage have always been a differentiator of what we do,” he stresses. “We take great pride in our made-from-scratch food, wine list, crafted beers and handcrafted cocktails. We make our own pasta, sauces and gelato. Food presentation and quality are very important to us. We look at every product and ask, ‘Is it of the highest quality?’ Pinstripes is more like a restaurant with bowling and bocce. We are redefining many elements of the bowling experience.”

 

Mike Cairns, senior lender, entertainment industry, for Live Oak Bank, says Schwartz and Pinstripes are leaders in the relatively new concept. “Dale recognizes that food and beverage are kings,” he says. “He obsesses over food quality and exceptional service. Dale wants to make everything the best it can be, even if it’s a grilled cheese sandwich. He has a different perspective, and as lenders, we learn from different perspectives. Dale has helped educate us.” He continues: “Dale has a strong growth plan, and his approach appeals to millennials and baby boomers. We believe Pinstripes has a bright future.”

 

Cairns touts Schwartz’s “amazing team with impressive backgrounds.” In addition to Schwartz and Soukup, Pin-stripes’ executive team includes Cesar Gutierrez, Chief Culinary Officer; Lida Ahn, Chief Training Officer; Laura Krohmer, Chief Sales Officer; Karen Raviv, Chief Marketing Officer; and Robert Hense, Chief Development Officer.

 

Cairns says Schwartz is known for his methodical approach, extensive research, conducting due diligence and selecting the right locations.

 

“He has a different perspective, and as lenders, we learn from different perspectives. Dale has helped educate us.”

 

Schwartz says, “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.” It’s a philosophy that has served him well.

 

Live Oak Bank is the primary lender for Pinstripes, which is one of its largest customers in the entertainment sector.

 

Kurt Harz, who retired from Brunswick after 40 years and served as a consultant to Live Oak Bank afterward, introduced Schwartz and Live Oak Bank officials in March 2017. “Dale is one of the few business visionaries I’ve met during my career,” says Harz.

 

Schwartz has extensive experience in the formation, financing and expansion of various companies. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Colgate University and a Masters in Business Administration from the Harvard Business School. He has been involved in businesses ranging from a natural pharmacy retailer to a biotechnology company.

 

“Pinstripes is a different playground than most of us are accustomed to,” offers Harz. “Dale has a great business sense.”

 

Harz says Schwartz and Live Oak Bank made an immediate connection. “Live Oak understands the industry and its nuances. A lot of banks don’t. Live Oak Bank recognized the value of Dale’s non-traditional approach. They had the right combination of personnel and knowledge of the industry.”

 

Soukup credits Schwartz’s “dynamic vision” as the key to the company’s growth. “We don’t do things the normal way,” he says. “We’re outside the box; we’re a disruptive brand.”

 

Harz says Schwartz and Live Oak Bank made an immediate connection. “Live Oak understands the industry and its nuances. A lot of banks don’t. Live Oak Bank recognized the value of Dale’s non-traditional approach. They had the right combination of personnel and knowledge of the industry.”

 

Certainly, Pinstripes’ menu and beverage list are out of the ordinary when it comes to bowling venues. Pinstripes’ menu features wood-fired pizza, homemade pasta and sauces (such as angel hair pomodoro and fettuccini Bolognese), and chef specialties (such as filet mignon trio and maple glazed salmon). A variety of sandwiches includes open-face grilled salmon and prime rib dip, while crispy calamari and stuffed mushrooms can be ordered as appetizers. Homemade gelato, caramelized cheesecake and Frangelico chocolate cake top the list of delectable desserts. The menu also includes late-night fare, Sunday brunch, happy hour items and gluten-free food. Pinstripes changes its menu, including wine and beer selections, every six months in an effort to stay seasonal and appealing.

 

The wine list rivals those of fine-dining restaurants. Customers can select from nearly 50 different bottlings, including many from Napa Valley and Italy. Some of the selections include Henry Chardonnay, Stemmari Pinot Noir, Regusci Winery Cabernet Sauvignon and Dogajolo Rosato. Craft beers and handcrafted cocktails round out the drink menu. Soukup, who spent some of his career working in Napa Valley, says people can enjoy wine while bowling or playing bocce. “Pinstripes has a great relationship with winemakers and owners,” he says. “The team visits Napa Valley every year. We have spent a lot of time figuring out what wines will work for our various venues. The wine list may vary slightly from venue to venue.”

 

Each Pinstripes location also features craft beer from its area. “We support the local breweries,” comments Soukup. “At our Overland Park and Edina locations, we feature only craft beers brewed in the Kansas City area and Minnesota. Craft beer helps to provide something unique to each location.”

 

With wine, bocce, homemade pasta and sauces, as well as homemade gelato, an Italian-American theme is strongly present at Pinstripes. When asked why the company decided to offer bocce, in addition to bowling, Soukup referenced the Italian-America theme. In Italy, many restaurants and wineries have bocce courts. It’s one of the major forms of socialization.

 

“Bocce is a sophisticated game, but it’s simple — everyone can play it,” stresses Soukup. When you think about it, Italians are masters at making human-to-human connections. How do they do it? Through wine, food and games.

 

Schwartz says Pinstripes has managed to retain its focus over the years, and it has served them well. “Food, beverages, bowling and bocce, along with excellent service, have been our focuses. We haven’t branched out to arcades, shuffleboard, ping pong, darts or billiards. Focus has been important to us,” he says.

 

Soukup and Schwartz say Pinstripes is constantly working to improve elements of its operation, whether it’s the artwork on the walls, the design or the menu. Most Pinstripes locations have a water element or fire pits as part of their design, something that’s far beyond traditional bowling facilities. Most have patios that typically overlook a lake or a stream. Guests can curl up with a blanket in front of the outdoor fireplace with a cocktail or gather with friends for an evening of bowling, bocce and dinner.

 

Soukup says Pinstripes has tightened up its operation, as most of its newer locations have fewer square feet. The average square footage has dropped from 38,000 to 27,000. “We are intentionally getting smaller and increasing our efficiency,” he explains. “Every location is tailored to the square footage available. That’s why we have different layouts. The number of bowling lanes and bocce courts depends on the space. Bowling lanes range from 11 to 20, depending on the location.”

 

In the past decade, Schwartz says he probably has been most surprised by how difficult it can be to hire the right team members for the right positions. “People are our greatest asset,” he stresses. “We are always looking for team members and leaders who share our commitment to delivering the most memorable and amazing dining and entertainment experience to our guests. “It can be a challenging environment,” adds Schwartz. “We have gotten better, however, at hiring the right people.” Over the years, Schwartz says Pinstripes has improved its training — particularly the emphasis on service — streamlined its menu and revised the protocols for preparing many of its menu items.

 

Schwartz says he and his team have constantly been guided by Walt Disney’s quote: “While there is a very little adult in a child, there is a lot of child in every adult.” “We take that to heart,” he says. We want people to connect with friends and family, to play and change their frame of mind.”

 

To read the original article from the April 2018 issue of Bowling Center Management magazine, download it here. To learn more about Live Oak Bank’s entertainment center financing team, visit our website or view additional resources.