It’s hard to believe it’s officially Fall, even though Austin’s temps are still in the 90’s, and the holidays are quickly approaching.
We are also approaching our ninth year since we opened the original location. We are often asked, “What prompted you to open that first arcade?” If you asked us that question ten years ago we would have told you that what we are doing now is crazy!
Here we are almost a decade later with three locations, two full restaurants and bars, and major attractions like go karts, laser tag, and virtual reality arenas. It’s still surreal to me when I walk in to one of the locations that we’ve created. It gives us a good feeling to be able to provide jobs to others. We’ve also enjoyed all the crazy things we’ve experienced, and the amazing people we are grateful to have met.
So, let me answer that question about what made us decide to open an arcade. It all started when Darren bought a 1979 Star Trek pinball machine for our home. It was the same one he had played every summer growing up while spending time at the beach. He also bought a Mata Hari pinball machine that same day. We put both in the house and we enjoyed playing them.
Now, if you know Darren, you know he just can’t stop at one or two of anything. Within a few more weeks he bought five more pinball machines. We managed to find a place for all of them at the house, but it didn’t stop there. Darren got the idea of putting them on a route just for fun. Then he started looking for 5,000 square feet to rent and open an arcade. We ended up finding the original location which was 13,000 square feet! We thought at the time that was tons of space, so Darren started going to auctions and other places to buy games to fill it up. We opened our first location on the first floor of that building, and Darren moved his tech companies in upstairs.
When we first opened, our staff consisted of just the two of us and one other person so the hours were limited. Next, we found our pinball tech, Billy, who is still with us today. Along with a hodgepodge of games we had a little snack area and redemption counter. You can still find YouTube videos customers have posted over the years from the early days at our little place. It’s come a long way since then!
Darren and I worked every shift, we opened and closed, we cleaned the bathrooms, we learned how to repair games, and we kept learning the business. We added a food truck, started doing birthday parties, added more staff, and continued to use our profits to buy better games. Most people told us it was a cool concept, but a dying business, and that running a pinball arcade just wouldn’t succeed.
Darren had a feeling it would survive if we focused on customer experience. We wanted to bring back something from our childhood that was lost. We wanted people to experience that nostalgic feeling of going to the arcade, hanging out with friends, and trying to get that top score on a favorite game or pinball machine. The days when arcades were found in malls and neighborhoods just seemed simpler and more social. It was a time when there were no computers or cell phones. Kids hung out together and socialized face-to-face.
When we are out at a restaurant these days, we often see the people around us on their cell phones instead of talking and spending time with the people they are with at the table. Having an arcade or family entertainment center allows us to do our part in bringing back a little of the past. It’s nice to see families coming in and parents showing their kids what they played as kids. They all spend time playing games most adults haven’t seen for quite some time.
When we see that, we remember why we got into this crazy fun business in the first place!
Darren & Mikki Spohn