This Dude Does Not Abide
How Pat Ciniello continues to transform the bowling alley beyond its humble roots—and succeed in the process.
Lisa and Pat Ciniello
Pat Ciniello is a businessman who looks forward and back at the same time, in a figurative sense.
On a stroll through his new, $9 million, 48,000-square-foot HeadPinz Entertainment Center, the bowling impresario moved from his state-of-the art laser tag arena and video arcade to PinBoyz, his turn-of-the-century throwback alley (the last century, that is). No time machine needed.
PinBoyz is a nostalgic nod to bowling’s roots, to an era even before Ciniello started working in the business as a 12-year-old kid cleaning bowling balls at Roosevelt Lanes in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1957.
PinBoyz replicates what a bowling alley would have looked like in earlier days. “You’ll be walking into history, into 1908,” Ciniello says.
Well, some concessions have been made to 21st century health regulations.
“We’re not going to have cigar smoke,” Ciniello says.
And why 1908? And not 1902 or 1913 or any other year around that period a long time ago?
Mike Cannington, his operations and marketing manager, says 1908 was selected because that was the year a pool table was constructed that will be part of PinBoyz.
The old-time four lanes of PinBoyz are an element of the latest venture from Ciniello, who has been a Southwest Florida businessman for more than 30 years. He’s built a bowling empire in that time.
And, like millions of other Americans before and since, his Florida life began on vacation. It was 1978 when he was in Naples, noticed Beacon Bowl in Naples was for sale, and convinced another bowling businessman to get in on the purchase, and his path was set.
The umbrella organization for all of Ciniello’s empire is Bowling Management Associates Inc., which operates bowling centers throughout the region, from Naples to Port Charlotte. Ciniello, though, is much more diversified than local bowling alleys. He’s also the president of QuibicaAMF Worldwide, a global bowling company.
In his sport and business, Ciniello is an international figure. In 2011, he was named to the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America Hall of Fame, and he’s also a trustee of the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame in Arlington, Texas. That year he was also the recipient of the Victor Lerner Memorial Medal, which is “the highest honor in the bowling business and is awarded for a lifetime of service.”
Ciniello could have retired in 2011 as a legend in bowling, but he hasn’t stopped working and dreaming and looking ahead. He doesn’t dwell on the past. Not even in PinBoyz.
Keith Hamilton is president and half-owner of Luby Publishing, a Chicago firm that publishes Bowlers Journal and Bowling Center Management. “As a leader he built the new museum,” Hamilton says, referring to the Bowling Hall of Fame. Hamilton adds that Ciniello on his own raised $1 million for the bowling museum. “He’s the only guy in the industry who could raise $1 million,” Hamilton says.
Hamilton also notes that Ciniello is a role model for other bowling center proprietors. “I absolutely think so,” Hamilton says. “He sets the pace. He’s proactive as opposed to being reactive. … The ultimate entrepreneur.” Ciniello, according to Hamilton, occupies a singular slot in bowling. “I don’t think there’s anybody like Pat,” Hamilton says.
Skip Hintz, who runs the Cape Coral HeadPinz, knows Ciniello well. They met in 1980. Like Ciniello, Hintz has been in bowling a very long time, starting as a 16-year old in Wisconsin and competing on the Professional Bowlers Association tour.
The 71-year-old Hintz says he obviously knows Ciniello is about his age but he also knows his friend is not wedded to old ways.“He is innovative and believes in all of the new stuff,” Hintz says. He adds that Ciniello is “continuously remodeling all the centers.” What worked in 1908 or 1988 may not be working in 2018.
All the accolades and success haven’t changed how Ciniello goes about his job, according to Hintz. “You would see him cleaning tables, sweeping the floors, helping out behind the service counter,” Hintz says. Ciniello says helping out in any way possible is part of the way he operates.
“I’ll jump behind the snack bar,” Ciniello says. “Some people thought I was the porter because I was sweeping the floor. I see something on the floor, I’m going to pick it up. Try to help the customer any way possible.”
Service is a paramount issue to Ciniello. “I’m there if there’s a customer who has not had the right experience,” Ciniello says. “I’m there personally to talk to them.”
On a recent morning when Gulfshore Business stopped by, Ciniello sat in a booth at Nemo’s Sports Bistro, a place certainly unlike anything at Roosevelt Lanes in Jersey City in 1957. The menu includes calamari salad, mahi tacos and shrimp mancini. The dessert menu offers Florida orange blossom pie. Nemo’s patrons can order a drink called the 300 Perfect Game. Its ingredients are light and dark rum, amaretto, orange juice and pineapple juice. There’s also a lemon martini and Portillo sauvignon blanc and Picket Fence pinot noir.
It ain’t 1908 or 1957 in HeadPinz. Such fancy drinks were likely unheard of in 1908 or 1957 bowling alleys. The drink menu also includes The Dude, a concoction of vodka, Kahlua and cream. The name of the drink is a nod to a 1998 bowling film, The Big Lebowski. The Dude was Jeff Bridges’ character in the movie. “I’m a big fan of The Big Lebowski,” Ciniello says. He’s such a big fan he’s thinking of holding a Lebowski Fest.
First, though, there are more pressing matters at HeadPinz. As he spoke in late July, staff was still being trained. Workers were putting the final touches on the place. He needs lots of employees to make HeadPinz hum.
Ciniello estimates it employs about 130 people. When it held a job fair recently, about 500 candidates showed up. Ciniello estimates about 30 or 40 from the fair were hired.
He knows times have changed a great deal in the bowling business since he and a colleague each rustled up $17,500 to acquire Beacon Bowl in Naples in 1980. The business model has changed drastically for all bowling center operators.
“The majority of our business in those days was leaguebased,” Ciniello says. “It was probably 70 percent league and 30 percent of it was casual open play.”
Bowling center operators needed to adapt or perish. Not everybody spotted the change coming. “We made a mistake,” Ciniello says. “The industry as a whole made a mistake. We have our leagues. There’s no time for [open bowling].”
Savvy operators adapted and provided more open bowling and amenities such as video games and sports bars. “I wanted to take the best of what I saw and add to it,” Ciniello says. And add to it he has. “I wanted to put it all together a little different than everybody else did,” Ciniello says.
Hence, something for people other than avid league bowlers or even casual bowlers. HeadPinz offers a two-story area to play laser tag and a suspended aerial ropes course games. Lots of games. Forty arcade games in all.
Then there are those four lanes set aside to replicate 1908. Staffers working there will dress in 1908 style and will work as pin boys and pin girls. They’ll reset the pins in a similar fashion to the way they were set before the advent of automatic pin setting devices. “It’s not your grandfather’s bowling alley,” says Cannington, the company’s operating and marketing manager. “Or your father’s bowling alley.”
One of the first steps toward turning HeadPinz into reality was purchasing 2.3 acres back in 2010 of what would grow into a 4.1-acre site. The location just off Treeline Avenue intrigued Ciniello. It’s about a mile south of the Daniels Parkway and Treeline intersection. JetBlue Park and Six Bends Harley Davidson are nearby. Florida Gulf Coast University and Southwest Florida International Airport are to the south down Treeline.
“We wanted to be by the university,” Ciniello says. “All the growth is moving here, east of I-75.”
The geography works for this sort of entertainment center as opposed to an old-fashioned bowling alley, according to Ciniello. The transportation nexus of I-75, Daniels, Treeline and other major traffic arteries should help HeadPinz attract customers from beyond the Lee County lines. “So where a traditional bowling center draws 3 to 5 miles out where people would normally travel, on these (centers) you’re looking at 25-plus miles they’re going to draw,” Ciniello says.
The opening of HeadPinz is a plus for nearby businesses such as Norman Love Confections’ Chocolate Salon and Artisan Gelato, which is located between HeadPinz and JetBlue Park. “Treeline Avenue and the surrounding area continues to grow, and that’s great news for local businesses and the economy,” Norman Love said in an email. “As an established business in the area, I’m pleased to see business development east of I-75.”
Glen Salyer, Lee County’s economic development director and assistant to the county manager, knows about HeadPinz. He also knows what businesses such as HeadPinz mean to the county’s economic vitality. “In the current economic landscape, attracting and retaining qualified workers is the key to bringing diverse employers to Southwest Florida,” Salyer wrote in an email to Gulfshore Business. “Consequently, a community must continually improve the quality of life that it offers today’s dynamic workforce.
“Businesses like HeadPinz are ‘placemaking’ attractions that contribute to the character of our community. HeadPinz, Six Bends Harley-Davidson, the Red Sox at JetBlue are essential elements of Lee County’s economic infrastructure.”
The roots of this element of the local economy can be traced back a long way, all the way to New Jersey in the 1950s. Ciniello has seen just about everything in the bowling business since he started cleaning balls at Roosevelt Lanes in Jersey City in 1957.
One thing has been a constant. He wanted to do a good job cleaning bowling balls in 1957. He still wants to do a good job. And he’s doing it with the same work ethic he displayed 58 years ago in New Jersey. “I love the industry, the sport, the game,” Ciniello says. “Just being around people. We’re in the entertainment/hospitality business. I want to be the best.”
The sentiment that was instilled then still inspires Ciniello.
“I started cleaning bowling balls for free games and eventually got promoted to lane boy and got my first paycheck,” Ciniello says. “From grammar school through college I worked part time at the bowling center and started enjoying the people I met and the excitement of the business. Not too many people have the opportunity to work in a job they love. I’ve been fortunate to love the game and the business that has given so much to me.”