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Omaha Magazine

Serving Nothing But Aces: Eateries that Offer Active Entertainment See Strong Growth

May 23, 2023 02:51PM ● By Jeff Lacey
Bob & Willie’s Wonderbowl Coming Soon: SmashPark Blue Sky Patio & Pickleball b2b june july 2023

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

How has the food and beverage industry dealt with the strange economic cocktail it’s been served for the last few years, which includes ingredients like supply-chain integrity issues, rising costs, and an empowered workforce that seeks, among other things, better working conditions? 
One response is by becoming smarter. To stand out, many operators are finding great value in filling both their patrons’ hands: providing a drink to one hand, and something fun to hit, throw, or roll in the other. The payoff has been considerable.

According to a report by Technomic, a food service research and consulting firm, 66% of consumers are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers unique experiences, and the Omaha area is reaping the benefits of this trend. Local venues that offer libations, eats, and activities in between sips are thriving. They include: Blue Sky Patio & Pickleball in Regency Landing, Bob & Willie’s Wonderbowl in the Blackstone District, and the yet-to-come multi-activity Smashpark planned in LaVista’s Southport development.

Blue Sky Patio & Pickleball

One cannot throw a wiffle ball these days without gently hitting someone who isn’t talking about pickleball. We’ve all heard the sound bites—it’s the fastest growing sport in America; it’s simple to learn; and, while not necessarily easy to master, it’s invitingly easy to play. And somehow, in an age of rancorous social discourse, it manages to engender niceness. 

The owners of Blue Sky Patio & Pickleball in Regency Landing have embraced the popularity of pickleball, serving up nothing but aces since. In addition to serving “creative drinks and local eats,” Blue Sky offers customers a wide array of pickleball experiences, including leagues, charity events, and pickleball parties (alongside trivia, drinks, and food). Reservations are recommended, but walk-ins are welcome; for lucky visitors, a court will be open for $20 an hour, with $3 paddle and $3 ball rentals available for an instant start-up. There is also a pro shop for those feeling more committal.

Shelby Hinman, general manager of Blue Sky, said the beach-entry feel to getting started is a major part of Blue Sky’s appeal. 

“It’s so inclusive,” Hinman explained. “We have people of all ages playing. It’s just a really easy sport on the joints, but it’s also very stimulating to the mind, too.” 

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, more than 8.9 million people currently play pickleball across the US. That’s nearly double the 4.8 million players reported nationwide the previous year.

Hinman said another element of their success is the climate-controlled four-season patio. Five garage doors allow easy access to pleasant weather, and visitors can enjoy fresh air and sunshine while eating and spectating pickleball games. 

However, the venue’s success is not just about its physical features. The team behind Blue Sky is dedicated to providing exceptional customer service. Hinman understands the importance of having a great team to create a successful business. 

“We have been working together for a while now, and they’re just amazing,” Hinman said. “We try to coach them, to just love [on them], and appreciate their giving good service.” 

Technomic also reported that 52% of consumers list quality of service as a key factor in choosing a restaurant, and Hinman believes that valuing the team is a major driver of quality of service.

Bob & Willie’s Wonderbowl

Pickleball isn’t the only recreational sport that local food and beverage entrepreneurs have invested in. Another growing trend is mini bowling, a game featured at Omaha venue Bob & Willie’s Wonderbowl in the Blackstone District. Currently, Bob & Willie’s has two locations (a Lincoln, Nebraska, operation opened in February), and is partnering with Blue Sky Patio & Pickleball to open a third.

As for the entertainment centerpiece, mini bowling, it is exactly what it sounds like—a game that utilizes a three- to four-pound ball, miniature pins, and a compact, mechanized lane that offers both the entertaining clatter of full-scale bowling and the liberating ease of Skee-Ball to create a highly accessible, fast-paced experience. Chad Shoeman, the operations manager at All-Together Hospitality and Management and the manager at Bob & Willie’s in Blackstone, remembers the first time he played the game. 

“From the second I played it, I thought [wow], this is a blast,” Shoeman recalled fondly. “My kids also love it.”

Named after the owner’s grandparents (passionate bowlers in their day), Bob & Willie’s offers a wide array of cocktails, mocktails, beers, and more, along with a menu that includes a variety of fare. The six elevated bowling lanes can support up to five players each and rent for $39 an hour, with half-price lane time slots scheduled frequently. Additionally, Bob & Willie’s supports leagues and venue rental events for private parties. 

Shoeman said the forecast for their product is rapid growth. For example, he said they were taking reservations and selling gift cards for the Lincoln store a year before it opened.
 Management is so confident in their concept that they’ve set a goal of opening 10 new venues (including their partnership with Blue Sky) over 10 years. Ownership has also seen the potential mini bowling has for attracting families, as it’s an activity parents and kids can enjoy together. Moving forward, the Blackstone store will be the only Bob & Willie’s that maintains a 21+ age requirement.

“It’s easier than regular bowling,” Shoeman explained. “Your hands don’t hurt after playing it for a while, and people with mobility issues and other physical demands can play. It’s not strenuous.” 
When asked if there were any hidden factors in Wonderbowl’s success, Shoeman echoed Blue Sky’s Hinman, declaring the most important ingredient is the people who work there. 

“This couldn’t be done without a strong team of cooks, bartenders, lane techs, and everybody else,” Shoeman said. “Our staff has their own leagues, and we have been working together for a while now. They are the most important part.” 

Leaning into an extended-family model for company culture is not only fun; it’s smart. In fact, providing more than just a paycheck jives with what experts currently understand about the modern-day workforce. According to a survey from, today’s workers value not only higher wages, but flexibility and the chance to do work that means something.

Coming Soon: Smash Park

In keeping with this trend, the multi-activity entity Smash Park, coming to the Omaha metro in 2024, offers a huge variety of activities. Pickleball (both indoor and outdoor), outdoor lawn games like giant Jenga, interactive arcade games, as well as both outdoor and indoor turf sports, are offered at the Des Moines Smash Park and planned for Omaha. According to its website, Omaha’s 30,000-square-foot facility will include axe throwing and a private karaoke suite as well. Besides a wide array of activities to choose from, Smash Park customers will be able to reserve spots and order everything digitally, via an app. Smash Park will be located in the Southport development in LaVista.
Visit, and for more information.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2023 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.


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