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Growth Chains: Pinstripes

‘Bowling, bocce, bistro’ chain spares no expense in building up system

Most people wouldn’t expect to find crab cakes and braised short ribs at the local bowling alley — or bocce courts, for that matter. But officials for two-unit Pinstripes, a “bowling, bocce and bistro” concept, are counting on that novelty to strike the right chord with customers and investors across the country.

The restaurant aims to redefine entertainment dining by pairing the versatile bistro menu with games, live music and events, founder and chief executive Dale Schwartz said while giving a tour of the 38,000-square-foot venue in Northbrook, Ill.


PARENT COMPANY: Pinstripes Inc.
HEADQUARTERS: Northbrook, Ill.

MARKET SEGMENT: upscale casual

MENU: Italian-American bistro



LEADERSHIP: Dale Schwartz, founder and chief executive; Chris Soukup, general manager; Mark Grimes, executive chef


METHOD OF GROWTH/FUNDING: private capital with some bank financing

NOTABLE COMPETITORS: Lucky Strike Lanes, 10 Pin, Dave & Buster’s

TARGET MARKETS: upscale suburbs nationwide


“Combining bowling and bocce makes it different,” Schwartz said. “Bocce adds an element of sophistication to the bowling, which allowed us to then do Italian and American food and wine by combining the Italian and American games. We’re combining gaming with terrific food, bowling with bocce, and open play with event-banquet space.”

Pinstripes opened the Northbrook location in 2007 with 18 lanes, four bocce courts, a 150-seat bistro and a 220-seat event space upstairs. Another unit in nearby South Barrington, Ill., came a year later. Construction has begun on a lakefront location in Edina, Minn., where Pinstripes is retrofitting an old big-box retail store, and should be complete by Thanksgiving, Schwartz said.

Depending on the size and layout of future Pinstripes units, the venues could bring in average volumes between $7 million and 
$15 million, he added. The average check in the bistro is about $17, but a customer’s possible spending varies by experience.

“Somebody can bowl and just enjoy pizza and a couple beers and not spend a lot,” Schwartz said, “or somebody could have a $126 bottle of Quintessa wine and halibut or prime rib and spend more money. You can really opt in or out.”

Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of foodservice strategies for WD Partners, said big venues like Pinstripes not only need to choose sites wisely but also to motivate repeat business.

“I’m sure they’ve done their homework, and it’s probably still a big bet,” he said. “With these ‘eatertainment’ concepts, you’re making big real estate decisions, and mistakes are very noticeable. If you don’t fill the building, it ain’t gonna happen.”

All Pinstripes’ activities should give groups different reasons to return and should also mitigate the “been there, done that, got the T-shirt” mind-set customers can get after visiting theme restaurants, Lombardi said.

“People tend to go to a theme restaurant as a substitute for a traditional dining experience,” he said, “but activity-based concepts don’t get as much pure restaurant traffic. These are heavily dependent on the success of their marketing and event people.”

There are three full-time event sales staffers per location who bring in more than 2,000 events a year at both units, Schwartz said. He estimated that 40 percent of Pinstripes’ business is event-based, though as much as 80 percent of its lunch crowd just eats.

Pinstripes balances weekday and weekend traffic by hosting bowling and bocce leagues during the week and with special offers, such as bottomless spaghetti on Mondays. Driving traffic at all times helps it meet one of its biggest challenges: maximizing the space of its large venues.

“On just a busy Saturday, we could have 3,000 people at Pinstripes,” Schwartz said. “That’s part of the attraction for a lot of the developers we talk to. We bring a lot of excitement, and we bring a very high-quality customer to centers, and we bring a lot of people.”

Schwartz plans to grow Pinstripes by 50 to 100 units in the next 10-plus years, at a comfortable pace of two to three openings next year and three to five in following years. The concept has some bank financing and continually will raise private-equity funding and build-out assistance from landlords.

Schwartz has scouted sites all over the country but will focus growth on upscale suburbs with a concentration of offices, such as Northbrook, home to Kraft Foods and Allstate Insurance.

“We look for both where Whole Foods and Crate and Barrel like to locate, but we also like that office component, because it can drive our event business and our happy hour and lunch,” he said.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected]

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