Bowling & Dogs: How This Duo Is Improving Restaurants
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Mixing cocktails and wagging tails or upping your bowling game, former SMU roommates Kyle Noonan and Joshua Sepkowitz have peppered Dallas with unique restaurant and bar concepts, like Mutts Canine Cantina. Three years after opening their first business, the founders of FreeRange Concepts are growing throughout Texas and have their sights set on a Midwest expansion.
It was a failed bowling excursion that gave Kyle and Joshua their first idea: creating a bowling alley focused on good food first and bowling second. In 2011, Kyle (who worked in restaurants) and Joshua (who worked in private equity) decided to quit their corporate jobs to start the company. Since then, they have launched three successful Dallas concepts (and even had a 52-episode local TV show, Local Fare) all in the span of 10 months. They opened Bowl & Barrel (the bowling concept) in November 2012 across from Northpark Mall in The Shops at Park Lane. Mutts opened down the street at 2889 CityPlace West Blvd in July 2013, and The Rustic opened over Texas-OU weekend 2013 at 3656 Howell St.
Kyle tells us they approached all of their concepts from a restaurateur’s perspective, rather than a bowling alley, music venue or dog park that just happened to have some food. After 13 years with the Pappas organization, Kyle says he knows well the importance of food, service and hospitality. Mutts, for instance, is a restaurant and bar that happens to allow dogs (which a lot of people in Uptown have). What sets Mutts apart from a run-of-the-mill dog park is the communal beer garden atmosphere. There are even special treats for good dogs. There’s WiFi and HDTV, too. There’s yappy hours and other scheduled activities including the appearance of Santa Paws (aka Joshua), who will be coming to Mutts this Saturday from 11am to 2pm for free Santa photos. It’s become a bigger event each year with about 200 dogs the first year to almost 500 dogs sitting on Joshua’s lap last year. Talk about a trooper; he’s allergic to dogs.
Last year, FreeRange began planning for expansion efforts in San Antonio and Houston. Their plans are centered on a trend the guys noticed: putting a Bowl & Barrel into a shopping center resulted in doubled and tripled sales in surrounding spaces. They’re taking advantage of the traffic generated by the destination entertainment by being their own neighbor. This June, the company opened a Bowl & Barrel with a new American tavern concept (called The General Public, which is the only FreeRange concept that’s truly just a restaurant/bar) next door at The Rim (17619 La Cantera Pkwy) in San Antonio.
That same pair of sites will open in early 2016 at Midway’s CityCentre in Houston. Kyle and Joshua plan to continue to co-locate the concepts. (The General Public takes about 3k to 4k SF and Bowl & Barrel takes about 15k SF.) CBRE-UCR’s Jack Breard has secured all of FreeRange’s locations and is searching for more sites in Arizona, Tennessee, Colorado and the Carolinas. Joshua says the concepts will go west and then go east. There are some big projects in the works and they’d like to open something every four to six months. They declined to release the specifics just yet, but said they hope to have announcements by the end of the year for the next 24 months of projects.
Kyle says the most rewarding part of the business for him is providing jobs and opportunities for the company’s 500 employees. They tell us by the end of 2016, they expect to have 1,000 employees. To celebrate Christmas with the staff and customers, The Rustic opens up in the evening on Christmas Day for a “drink the tree” ceremony. Customers can buy a bottle of beer from the tree for $2 each and the only other things on the menu that day are tequila and tamales. It’s a fun way to transition to post-Christmas time. Joshua may be ready for a bottle of beer after the baby bottles he’s been using since the birth of his firstborn, Catherine Rose, who arrived on Nov. 12.