Teenage bowlers raised their eyebrows as colorful balls careened down the polished lanes only to curve into the gutters leaving the pins stoically untouched.
With school on spring break, several families took turns at the lanes on a recent weekday afternoon. Between people who arrive with their own bowling balls to those who are trying on brightly colored shoes for a lark, Jack's House appears to have knocked out a strike with area bowlers.
The much anticipated 24-lane bowling alley opened along Highway 25 in southeast Brainerd in October. The following month the restaurant and lounge opened. Other pieces, like virtual golf, followed.
Owners Ginger and Kevin Lorentz, who also own Wadena Lanes, named Jack's House in honor of Ginger Lorentz' father. The business employs 32.
Colorful house bowling balls line the racks in terms of weight. Glow-in-the-dark bowling shoes are still checked out at the counter.
Since Jack's House opened, Ginger Lorentz said open bowling has been much busier than anticipated. Open lanes are available from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. but are limited to a few lanes during prime late afternoon to early evening hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The business is open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturdays. About 140 people can be bowling at one time, ideally not more than five people on a single lane.
Bumpers, or guards that keep balls from going into gutters, let adults mix play with children and keep their interest. The bumpers go up automatically when the individuals name comes up on the order list. Automatic scoring replaces the hot seat where a scorer once placed an X for a strike or a slash to mark spares and the scribbled math for points in between.
"I think a lot of people avoided bowling because of the scoring," Lorentz said.
League bowlers typically spend two hours a week on the lanes and Lorentz said without signing up for that outlet some people may not take time for themselves. While the activity can be a singular achievement for individual bowlers, going bowling is a social occasion. Music, black lights, glow-in-the-dark shoes and colorful bowling balls are part of the atmosphere for recreational bowlers.
Ginger Lorentz (left), her husband, Kevin, and her mom, Shirley Almer, paused during a weekday afternoon at their new 24-lane bowling alley in Brainerd. They own Jack's House along with Ginger Lorentz' brother, Michael Almer. (Dispatch Photos by Renee Richardson)
Lorentz said bowling continues to be an inexpensive sport. Bowling costs $3 per game with a discount to $2.50 for bowlers hitting the lanes before 5 p.m. on a weekday.
"It's just not a frightening sport," Lorentz said of the appeal. She said the bowler profile has changed a lot in the last 15 years. "It's become more recreational than league setting and they are just having fun. It's not a dark, dingy place anymore with a lot of smoke."
Holiday parties, about 110, came in short order during the last Christmas season. The facility includes a self-contained restaurant with pasta, steak, sandwiches, burgers and daily specials. The full kitchen allows Jack's House to provide full-course meals for gatherings from groom's dinners to birthday parties. If snacks are more in line than a sit-down dinner, hors d'oeuvres may be served to those on the lanes. Special events have taken off to the extent an employee is now strictly a party planner.
The 35,000-square-foot, $3 million bowling center, is located on a five-acre site just north of Radco.
The bowling alley has automatic scoring, a pro shop, a large arcade and a locker room. Lorentz said they have about 600 league bowlers, with leagues typically bowling one night a week. To attract others, there are thoughts of having league play every other week for shorter terms. There are senior leagues for bowlers 55 and older, adult leagues and junior leagues for those in high school and younger. The youngest junior league bowler is 5. Jack's House has day leagues and school programs.
Custom-drilling in the pro shop has attracted bowlers from across the state looking for that perfect match to hand span, Lorentz said.
Still to come is laser tag, which is expected this summer.
The virtual golf, which allows players to try 18 different courses and play a complete game, opened in December. Different spots on the green will recreate textures familiar to a golfer in trouble for a sand trap or the rough. It can be a realistic experience.
"When you hook the ball, it hooks," Lorentz said, adding the simulated play covers tough courses. It takes a foursome about 2-1/2 hours to play, but more people can be included. Cost is $25 per hour.
It is the third virtual golf option in the lakes area and the only one in Brainerd.
Original plans to have an upstairs with banquet facilities for about 600 people are on hold for now. When construction was just starting on Jack's House, Lorentz said additional land was purchased at the site to accommodate potential expansion that may include banquet facilities at a future date.
Last week, Lorentz said they already wish they had built a larger building. Original plans to include a place for indoor archery had to be shelved because of the space limitations, but could be resurrected in the future.
Now when all the areas are going on a busy night with restaurant, arcade and pool tables, bowling lanes and golf, Lorentz said shifting employees moving from one area have a saying -- "let's do the dance."
"It was definitely a learning experience for the whole staff," Lorentz said of the business. "We didn't do everything perfect but we are trying." As for Jack's House getting bigger, Lorentz said: "I have no doubt it will happen."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.