It started with a group of friends, a football, and some bowling pins. Today, Fowling Warehouse has expanded into several states with more on the way.
First, about fowling: it’s like bowling, except players use a football instead of a bowling ball. Brad Chapman, president of Detroit-based Fowling Franchise LLC, says it came about when he and a group of friends including Fowling Warehouse founder Chris Hutt were tailgating at the Indianapolis 500. They decided to build a bowling alley in a pickup truck bed and realized that a heavy bowling ball wasn’t going to work in that setting.
“Later in the day, a few of us were playing catch, and an errant football went over someone’s head and bam—hit the bowling pins,” he says. “We thought, ‘Hey, this is something’ … we hashed out the rules to fowling then and there and fowling was born.”
After that, Hutt would carry fowling boards in his truck for tailgates at Detroit Lions and Tigers games. “We would always set up, and folks would see it and flock to us,” Chapman says. “Over the years that kind of grew and eventually we tried it out.”
They first acquired a 15,000-square-foot abandoned toy warehouse in Detroit, promoted it on social media and attracted enough participants the very first night to cover rent for the month. That led to the first Fowling Warehouse—a 60,000-square-foot facility they opened in 2014 in Hamtramck that has multiple lanes, a full bar, and plenty of space for gatherings and team-building activities.
“Things went crazy then,” Chapman says. “Folks started hearing about it. We were just swamped. We’ve even had part of the grand finale of The Amazing Race filmed at Fowling Warehouse. Momentum has been really great.”
Chapman changed careers to build Fowling Warehouse’s franchise arm. It wasn’t long before a second location opened in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Another debuted in Michigan (Ann Arbor), with additional franchises in Cincinnati, Dallas, Indianapolis, and Atlanta and others soon to come in Omaha, Kansas City, and one more Midwest city.
“We’ve got quite a few inquiries and different things we’re putting together where our footprint could double or triple in the next three years,” Chapman says, estimating that between 30 and 50 will open in the next decade.
Joe Frank, co-owner of Fowling Warehouse Cincinnati, learned to enjoy fowling by way of a high school friend who knew Hutt. He began playing it in his neighborhood where he started a league, and visited Hamtramck to check out the Fowling Warehouse there. “I immediately fell in love with the entire concept and immediately knew we needed one of these in Cincinnati,” he says.
Frank and his friends opened that location in 2019, with a 47,000-square-foot building that includes 30 fowling lanes, corporate party space with a stage, a watch party area with 25-foot screen, two large bars, and 13 garage doors that get opened to bring in fresh air. “We have pizzas delivered and food trucks on the weekends,” he says. “The warehouse can comfortably sit over 400 people along with table space. It is a large entertainment venue.”
In fact, Frank says, his Fowling Warehouse hosts about 15 corporate events per week, ranging from a group as small as 10 to more than 400 for a private full-space rental. And it’s not uncommon during the winter to see between 600 and 1,000 people turn out to play on a Saturday night.
Each Fowling Warehouse follows the same model except for food. For example, Dallas and Atlanta have full-service restaurants, while others do it like Cincinnati with food trucks and various outside sources. In Hamtramck, Chapman says groups have hosted parties that have ranged from featuring chefs in white hats and a carving station to a buffet with a make-your-own taco bar or “Aunt Martha’s casserole.”
Regardless, he says, it’s ideal for team-building and other group events. “You look at some of the other options out there where you may go into a place and your group is broken into smaller groups to accommodate the play or the game they may be doing like golf or something where you end up having a fragmented experience,” Chapman says. “(With fowling) everybody’s playing together.”
Frank says corporate team-building events “are the bread and butter of what we do.” His location also hosts so many fundraisers that they’ve trademarked the term “FOWLanthropy.”
“Giving back is so important to us,” Frank explains. “We recently set a world record for hosting the largest Fowling Tournament in the history of Fowling, all inside the warehouse. 240 teams matched up in a Fowling Tournament to benefit the Sam Hubbard Foundation.”