This is excerpt 2 of The Barstool MBA: Why Running a Bar Beats Running to Business School. Click here to read Excerpt 1.
Five years ago, Sam Largent couldn’t get landlords to return his calls. Today, developers of America’s most valuable real estate are begging him to be a part of their projects. His newest locale is just steps away from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, and planners as far away as New York have heard about his concept and want to license it.
His big idea? Fun. Or more specifically, mini-golf. Inside a bar.
Largent had no experience in the bar business – he’d been an accountant for 15 years — when he opened the first Flat Stick Pub in Kirkland, Washington, a posh suburb on Seattle’s east side, not far from Microsoft headquarters. It’s right on Lake Washington. It wasn’t where Largent wanted to open. Kirkland is a bit sleepy — not the coolest place for night life — a risky spot for a new bar. But that was the only place he could get a decent lease.
Flatstick has three shticks. First, and most important, there is indeed a mini-golf course inside the bar. Old kegs are used as obstacles. It’s uber-competitive. Flatstick has mini-golf leagues. There’s an annual “Masters” tournament.
Largent is incredibly committed to the golf concept. How committed? Sure, the course is small, but it takes up about half the floor space of the bar.
HALF THE FLOOR SPACE??
Most bars in areas where rent is in any way competitive freak out when a fire inspector makes them remove a single table near an exit. Flat Stick surrenders half its table space to a game. A game! Sure, it costs a few bucks to play, but for the price of a beer, patrons can play ‘til their hearts content. And, curiously, feel pretty comfortable not drinking at his bar.
I met Largent one sunny afternoon at Flat Stick’s second location, in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. It’s only a few steps from Seattle’s crowded downtown sports district. It’s a five-minute walk to the Seattle Mariners baseball stadium, SafeCo field, and CenturyLink field, home to the rabid fans of football’s Seahawks and soccer’s Sounders. On game days, the area is crazy. Yet, even in a neighborhood where patrons squeeze into every inch of space to buy one more $5 beers before they are subject to stadium-like prices, Largent gives over plenty of space to game-playing. At this spot, it’s a game Largent invented call “Duffleboard,” which kind of combines mini-golf and shuffleboard.
Wearing a T-shirt and ball cap, Largent could easily be missed as a quiet guy just waiting in line to get a beer. In fact, he’s so demure you might worry he’ll never get one in a crowded bar. But this is his bar. And when you chat with him, it makes sense that he created a different kind of bar –one where people who aren’t loud Type-A personalities can have fun, too.
You might be thinking that while it generally takes two hands to make a putt, that means neither player’s hand is holding – or buying — a beer. That’s ok, Largent says. Eventually, they do.
“I just always liked games,” Largent said “I just think playing games makes for a great environment.”
“Wasting” a bunch of space on non-drinking activity might sound crazy to you, but think about McDonald’s Playlands. They’ve been building family loyalty since 1973.
Shtick No. 2 – less important to the business, but more important to Largent – is the product. This is a beer bar, but it only serve local brews made by small brew masters. Kegs are attached to an electronic system – viewable by website – showing how much beer is left in each keg. When it’s gone, it’s gone. The place has a little wine, and no hard liquor. Only people who want to support local businesses and budding brewers come to Flat Stick.
“It attracts a certain kind of person,” he says. “People don’t come here to get hammered. They come here because they like beer.”
Finally, look down at a Flatstick and you are likely to see a furry face sitting at your feet. Flat Stick is dog friendly. VERY dog friendly. There’s no kitchen, so no food prep, so dogs have the run of the place. Yes, occasionally they steal the golf balls. That’s just part of the fun.
“It was risky. Some people worried there’d be dog fights or whatnot. That almost never happens,” he said.