That’s Eatertainment! Competitive Social Ventures reshapes the food & beverage landscape

At The Hamilton, Curio Collection by Hilton, a boutique hotel located in Alpharetta, GA, there’s a door marked RoSo that opens into a clothing shop. A secret password whispered into an old-fashioned telephone on the wall allows passage into a 1920s-style speakeasy where cocktails are being poured, food is being served and live music is being played. In the back room, patrons are tossing small bowling balls at the duckpins down the lane.

This is Roaring Social, one of the three eatertainment venues from Competitive Social Ventures (CSV), a real estate holding company headquartered in Alpharetta. Joining Roaring Social on the CSV roster are Fairway Social, which pairs F&B with sports activities such as golf simulators and putting greens, and Pickle and Social, which features a combination of pickleball, cornhole and F&B.

So, what is eatertainment? Brian Harper, partner/SVP, sales and marketing, CSV, put it simply as “a guest experience involving food and beverage either before, after or during an activity.”

Neal Freeman, founder/CEO, CSV, has had a long career in real estate development, having developed 52 Publix-anchored shopping centers, as well as LakePoint Sports, a $100-million youth sports complex in Emerson, GA. That connection to sports sparked the idea of Fairway Social.

“I was about to turn 60 and asked myself, ‘How do I want to end my career?’” he explained. “So I took the time to do a personal mission statement and that was to bring joy to others, but I’m such a sports geek, it had to include sports. I was very impressed with Topgolf, and thought ‘What if Topgolf came inside?’ The golf simulator business was getting better and better, and the price was coming down. Then, I studied what Tiger Woods had done with Popstroke [an outdoor putting venue with an F&B component]. I thought, ‘What if we did a smaller version of that and an indoor Topgolf and mixed them together?’ And that’s how the idea of Fairway Social came into my head.”

The first Fairway Social opened in May 2021 within The Maxwell, an open-air, mixed-use development in Alpharetta. The second, ​​Fairway Social Trilith, which opened earlier this year in Fayetteville, GA, is in the town of Trilith, “where one of the largest movie studio complexes in North America is located,” offered Freeman.

Filling a need
Back at The Hamilton, which opened in August 2021, the first Roaring Social was found to fit perfectly in the basement space while the hotel was being developed, noted Freeman.

“Jason Joseph and A.J. Belt [of Mayfair Street Partners, which developed the property]called me and asked, ‘Can you help me with this hotel?’” Freeman remembered. “And I said, ‘Well, I’ve never done hotels, so I really can’t help you.’ They replied, ‘We got the hotel figured out, but we need help on this 9,000-sq.-ft. basement. We’ve had some people who have called with some interest, but what do you think we should do?’”

So Freeman looked over the plans for the property. “It looked like could have been built a hundred years ago,” he said. “In the basements of hotels back then, they had speakeasies, and they’re still super-popular today. I told them to do one and go all in—passcode to get in, 1920s theme, craft cocktails, live music, etc. They liked the idea and said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ For some reason, I said yes, and now I’m running a speakeasy.”

Fairway Social features individual bays where patrons can customize their golf-simulator experience.

Joseph and Belt are now general partners at CSV and serve on the leadership team, with the former serving as chief investment officer and the latter as CFO.

Roaring Social has been a big hit with guests of The Hamilton and locals alike.

“Having Roaring Social, a true 1920s prohibition-style speakeasy at The Hamilton, a Curio Collection hotel, gives us a unique and competitive advantage in catering to guests who are looking for a bespoke, experiential stay,” said Brad Rahinsky, president/CEO, Hotel Equities, which manages the hotel.

According to Joe Reardon, general partner/investor, CSV, that success has led to plans of bringing the venue to other hotels.

“Roaring Social just doubled its expectations,” he said. “The first year out of the gate, we’d say, ‘If we did $2 million to $2.5 million [in revenue], that’d be awesome,’ and it did $4.5 million in year one. We all thought that this was something that has a lot of legs.”

Pickleball palace
The idea of Pickle and Social came from a common interest between Freeman and Reardon, according to the CEO.

“Just like everybody else who picks up pickleball, I got invited to play with seven other people, all nonathletic people like myself,” said Freeman. “Once I started to play, I was hooked for life. I wondered if anybody’s done for pickleball what Topgolf did for golf, and that was Chicken N Pickle [a similar concept with locations in the Midwest]. So I called to see if I could get a franchise. Coincidentally, Joe, who I met through the Lakepoint project, told me he did the same thing. So I said, ‘We’ve got a team that’s formed now. We should see if we can compete with them.’ That’s when Pickle and Social was formed.”

Pickle and Social Atlanta/Gwinnett in Buford, GA, is expected to open in October. It will have a total of 16 pickleball courts—eight outdoor courts, two pavilion-covered courts and six weather-controlled indoor courts.

At Roaring Social, live music and duckpin bowling are played nightly.

There are another seven Pickle and Social locations being developed, with the second one beginning construction this summer in Scottsdale, AZ, within The Sydney, a 22-acre mixed-use development. It will include four outdoor and eight indoor pickleball courts and all the signature offerings of the brand, as well as Fairway Fieldhouse, which will have four Full Swing golf simulators, a private bar and an outdoor putting green. All locations will include live entertainment, an American Cornhole League (ACL) cornhole yard and a full-service restaurant & bar, live music, a rooftop bar, table tennis and more.

Among the three venues, Roaring Social seems like the ideal fit for hotels looking to fill an F&B space. However, all three concepts can work either within a hotel or nearby to serve as an attraction to guests.
“We are definitely positively impacting The Hamilton’s occupancy and room rate,” said Freeman. “On three occasions, I went to Roaring Social for a great show and had a business meeting the next day at the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast. I would see people there who I saw the night before. They said they lived 10 to 30 minutes away. It’s become their staycation place. They’d shop during the day, then go to Fairway Social and play [a video simulation of]St. Andrews golf course, have dinner and then come and finish the night with dancing, drinking and bowling at Roaring Social.”

CSV is “very close,” as Reardon put it, to bringing its first hotel-based Fairway Social to the dual-branded Element/SpringHill Suites in Colorado Springs, CO, which opened in June 2022 and is managed by Hotel Equities.

“Hotel guests and developers are really saying no one needs another Champ Sports Bar, where you’re going to go grab buffalo wings and watch an NBA game,” said Reardon. “Today, it’s a much more sophisticated customer who wants interaction and connectivity while traveling. Imagine this: As you check into either side of this dual-branded hotel, you’re going to walk into the front desk area and you’re going to look over through the window and see four to five simulators, a cool neighborhood bar, shuffleboard, interactivity and live music that you’re going to be able to enjoy, and then take the elevator home at the end of the night.”

Hotels that choose to put one of the three eatertainment venues will lease the space to CSV, according to Reardon, who added, “Coming out of COVID, there’s a lot of dead space right now in hotels that needs to be filled. Developers building out assets on the hotel side have identified that if they’re going to put in an outlet, it needs to be something that is experiential and is going to bring in additional revenue. We typically create a lease term with the hotel, and there are certain thresholds when you do a commercial lease that there’s some revenue share. It works out really well as a symbiotic relationship between our sales team and the hotel sales team to create that great guest experience.”

The CSV sales team is led by Harper, a former director of sales at Topgolf. He pointed out that the company’s hotel sales strategy is all about keeping the guests on the property as long as possible.

“We offer a great extension of the hotel’s brand, and we create that activity component for guests who are already staying there,” Harper said. “Our sales team is structured much like a hotel director of sales or sales manager, always looking to procure business. But what we’re trying to do is extend the lifespan of a guest’s stay. Can we turn one day into two days? Can we turn two into three? Can we offer that amenity that comes with an experience that instead of just staying at a hotel and being on vacation, now you associate a great experience with that hotel stay?”

Catering the experience
In order to keep those guests in the venue, CSV has upped the F&B and entertainment game compared to other sports- or music-themed outlets.

“It’s no longer concession-style food at these places,” said Harper. “Our culinary programs are by an executive chef who came over from Topgolf with me. It’s fresh food brought in daily, regional fare that changes things up and craft cocktails.

“For the entertainment component, we have a music director for Roaring Social who’s going out and actively seeking the best musicians out there who fit our audience,” he added. “We program daily, so Tuesday it’s jazz music; Wednesdays, live-band karaoke; Thursday’s our floating day where we try new things; and Friday and Saturday, it’s a party atmosphere.” The venue is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Hamilton Alpharetta was the first hotel to feature Roaring Social.

At both Fairway Social and Pickle and Social, state-of-the-art technology plays an important role in attracting patrons, according to Harper.

“At Fairway Social, we use Full Swing technology for the golf simulators, which is the same technology used by professionals like Tiger Woods,” he said. “We’re also cutting our teeth into skill-based gaming and introducing PinSeeker and Super Money Games, which allows guests to make derivative wagers on their skill set and compete against anybody in the world that has the same technology, either commercial or residential. That allows some real geofencing and geotargeting on the marketing side to drive people back, and brings in activations and sponsorships on the beverage side.”

At Pickle and Social, cameras are placed around the courts to record or stream matches. “And if you want to send the recording off to one of our coaches and get voiceover video coaching in return, we can do that,” said Harper. “We’re trying to outfit ourselves from an infrastructure standpoint to where a technology arm is critical to our growth and being able to implement new things to stay cutting edge and stay ahead of the status quo.”

Freeman noted that the golf simulators offer other sports activities such as shooting hockey pucks past a goalie and soccer balls past a keeper—and even zombie dodgeball. “The consumer can control their experience on these simulators by controlling an iPad,” he said. “We had a group that took soccer penalty kicks for two-and-a-half hours while they were watching the World Cup.”

Expansion plan
CSV has a robust pipeline in place for all three venues, noted Reardon, who pointed out that “we probably have some of the best real estate locked up right now that I’ve seen in years. We have 11 new units that are on the board, with three of those either attached to or inside of a hotel.”

He added that there is a place for Pickle and Social at a hotel despite the large footprint needed for a location.

“We’re not shying away from Pickle and Social at a hotel because we think there are resort opportunities there where they could put in a smaller prototype that could fit in well,” Reardon said. “Pickleball is in a lot of urban markets right now, so we haven’t really gone that route because we typically need three to four acres to get one done, including parking.”

As for the markets CSV has in mind for its outlets, Reardon offered, “I think the top 50 MSAs [metropolitan statistical areas]are not a bad start,” adding, “We don’t have to be in New York City by any means. I think Colorado Springs is a perfect example of a tier-two market that we want to be in. I think another project we’re looking at in Savannah is another good market with lots of convention-goers and leisure travelers who are going to come through. As long as a market checks the boxes of corporate demand generators and high barrier-to-entry, that is one we’d want to go into.”

A rendering of Pickle and Social Gwinnett, which will have a total of 16 pickleball courts.

CSV is rolling out the three concepts in series based on the equity raise, according to Freeman.
“We are finishing the last venue in what we call series A, which was a $10.5-million equity raise, which got us four venues,” he said. “The three that are already open are doing so much better than I expected. The fourth one we think is going to be the best of the bunch, Pickle and Social Gwinnett, which will be opening in October of this year.”

He added that series B consists of a $35-million equity raise for the next 11 venues.

“When we complete that equity raise, we believe our market cap will be above $100 million,” said Freeman. “So that is three to four years from now before we finish those 11 and get them open. And we already have two venues that are in series C that are amazing iconic pieces of property.”

Ten years from now, Freeman believes that CSV will have “20-plus Pickle and Socials, 10-plus Fairway and Socials and six or seven Roaring Socials,” adding, “We don’t ever really pin it down. We just are open to growth and opportunity, and it is just amazing how every day brings a new opportunity. We analyze it as properly as we can and make the best decision we can.”

For Freeman, it is a fulfilling way to spend the latter part of his career. “We have three brands where people seem to have fun,” he said. “I feel like I’m 34 again instead of 64. To be able to go and watch people have fun in a place you’ve created for fun is so rewarding.”

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