Nfld. & Labrador

'Eatertainment' businesses bringing adults out to play

Eatertainment businesses provide adult-oriented games and experiences, alongside beers and grub —and small entrepreneurs and big corporations alike are racing to catch the trend.

Who says you’re too old to have fun? At Funderdome and Jack Axes, experiences are on the menu

A high-speed go-kart track is the centrepiece of Funderdome, a Mount Pearl business that caters to adults and kids alike. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"You can hear them laughing down the hallway and throughout the building."

Kieley Hickey sounds like she's describing a kid's birthday party, but she's talking about the stag parties and corporate events she hosts at her business, Funderdome.

Located in a large warehouse off Topsail Road, Funderdome features high-speed go-karts, a virtual reality room, glow in the dark mini-golf, and a video arcade. It also has a restaurant and, crucially, a fully licensed lounge.

It's a family affair for Funderdome co-owners Walter Matena and Kieley Hickey, with their son, Jasper. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"We managed to pull off a liquor licence, which was a huge score for us. That solidified what we needed to do," said Hickey. "It made us focus on services that were going to fulfil adults."

Funderdome is part of a burgeoning class of businesses called "eatertainment" — essentially, businesses that provide adult-oriented games and experiences, alongside beers and grub. Funderdome also attracts its fair share of kids and younger children, but the eatertainment trend has allowed it to seriously broaden its customer base.

The Funderdome video arcade features some gaming machines from the old Noiseland arcade in the Avalon Mall. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Eatertainment catching on

Eatertainment businesses are especially popular with millennials, who are now in their early 20s to mid-30s. Small entrepreneurs and big corporations alike (such as the Cineplex Rec Room) are racing to enter the market.

Kieley and her husband, Walter Matena, started out with a business called G-Force Karting, an outdoor go-kart track in Torbay. They started to notice that a significant portion of their customers weren't the kids and teenagers they were expecting, but adults looking for new ways to socialize.

When they decided to move indoors and expand the business, it was a natural move to go after adult customers more aggressively.

"We have a lot of square footage and we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to best utilize it," said Hickey. "We focused on the adults in the beginning, and it was really obvious pretty quick that we had a business that everyone was going to love. Definitely not just for kids."

The Funderdome mini-golf room was designed and painted by renowned mural artist Don Short. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Hickey says the ability to pair their games with food and alcohol is a key component, helping to get older customers through the door. She says when adults strap into a go-kart or slip on a virtual-reality helmet, their inner child starts to take over.

"It's a really exhilarating experience. The corporate market love it; we literally have everything they need. And the stag parties, it's everything they need before they head downtown for the big night."

Jack Axes comes to Funderdome

The newest offering at Funderdome is four lanes of axe-throwing, operated by Jack Axes. The popular business launched two years ago in downtown St. John's, and owner Adrian Beaton says a partnership with Funderdome hits the bull's-eye.

Jack Axes owner Adrian Beaton says partnering with Funderdome made sense, since both businesses are targeting the same kind of customers. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"We were really interested in coming out to the suburbs and bringing axe-throwing out there, because we thought there was a great market for it out there," said Beaton. "And Funderdome was somebody that was already hitting the exact type of people we really wanted to engage with anyway."

Jack Axes is also part of the Eatertainment trend, with craft beers on tap next to the axe throwing lanes. Beaton says today's young consumers are more options for socialization, and constantly choosing between bars or restaurants just isn't cutting it.

"It gets boring after a while," says Beaton. "It's the same thing, over and over. I think people are really shifting. They want experiences more so than just they want to go and drink their faces off."

Customers axe it up at Funderdome. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

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