Jul 31, 2019
Your home for biscuits, tangs and all-around fun with your troop.
[00:00:00] We always say that if we understood how much risk we were taking when we started, probably never would have done it. It was truly hubris and naiveté that got this place going because anybody who knew what they were doing would not have.
[00:01:45] Hi, I am Suzanne Lynn and this is the Brooklyn made show, and today we are going to talk with Ashley Albert of Royal Palms shuffleboard. It started out in Brooklyn and it's expanded into Chicago, but if you think the game of shuffleboard is only for old people, well hold tight because Ashley is going to make you think again. Royal Palms it's a cool combination of gaming and a bar and a hangout, it's all fun all wrapped up together. Ashley and her partner are trailblazers, and I cannot wait to jump in and get chatting with her. So grab your virtual shuffleboard stick because Ashley is on deck, tell us about yourself.
[00:02:26] Yes, so I am the co-owner of the Royal Palms shuffleboard club, and that is a giant vintage Florida's gamed shuffleboard bar. I have one in New York and I have one in Chicago, and I'm working on building a couple more. And it is like the very first nightclub shuffleboard bar, so it sort of looks like a bowling alley but it's vintage deck shuffleboard, like cruise ship style shuffleboard.
[00:02:57] That is fascinating, that's cool. How did you come up with this idea?
[00:03:01] So my business partner, he's one of my best friends and my holiday gift to him in 2011 was to become certified barbecue judges. So I flew us down to Florida to get our meet certification, it happens all over the world but it just so happened that the one that we picked was in Florida and I'm from Miami, I grew up there. So we went to the middle of nowhere Central Florida, and while we were there he said I won Florida we've got to play shuffleboard, he remembered playing with his grandparents at century village in Palm Beach when he was a kid. And so we did some research and we found the world's largest shuffleboard club in St. Petersburg Florida, and on a lark, we rented a convertible and we drove the three hours to go to St. Petersburg and play this a city-owned Municipal Park.
And it turned out that once a month, like a handful of St. Petersburg hipsters would get together and play on these yawns courts, and they happen to be there the day that we were there. And they shared their beer with us, and they taught us how to play, and they were playing music and we were like this is the coolest thing ever and this was still in Brooklyn. But we both had great jobs, we weren't looking for a new job I was doing voiceover living my life of leisure, and we came back up to New York just for fun, mostly pretending because we didn't think we were going to find a space big enough and affordable enough and then a good enough location in New York to do this.
We were just on the weekend go look at real estate, you know just pretending that we were interested in opening a shuffleboard Club and we walked into our space and I turned to Jonathan my business partner and I said okay, if we're serious about this we have to take this space, that if we don't take this space then we know we're not serious about this. Like this is how we know whether we're kidding or not, because this space at this price in this location is just not going to be here if in three months.
And we go you know what maybe we should open a shuffleboard Club, and we didn't have a business plan or any money raised or anything, and we just plunked our life savings down on the deposit for the lease, and then we scrambled about raising many millions of dollars, it's a 20,000 square foot space. So we only said that if we understood how much risk we were taking when we started, we probably never would have done. It was truly hubris and naiveté that got this place going because anybody who knew what they were doing would not have done it this way.
[00:05:37] What a story, I mean you make people dream like this can happen.
[00:05:43] I mean shuffleboard in New York, so how popular is it?
[00:05:46] It's wildly popular, it's crazy you know I think we know it was a good idea, you know I get invited on the panels and stuff to talk about risk and I think I am good at taking risks, but I'm also super cautious. I think I'm only taking risks that in my mind are not risky, and so I think we thought it was a good idea, and we people would like it, but I don't think we would never be in the hospitality before, I don't think we realized how hard of an industry it was and how lucky. And we do understand how lucky we've got, it's a different club on different nights so on Monday and Tuesday's we have leagues, and we have a hundred and twenty teams in our league in both cities, so about a thousand people playing between Monday and Tuesday night in each place.
And then Wednesdays and Thursdays we do a lot of corporate events things like that, and then Fridays and Saturdays it is a big bump and night club, it's like five hour way to entertain and there I never I bat fully out of the building too old and not cool enough to be at my club on the weekend. And then Sunday's all of our league members get to play for free all week, and they know better than to come on the weekends. So usually on Sundays a lot of regulars who are there practicing and a lot of locals you know drinking Bloody Mary’s and listening to reggae, and that's probably I love going to leak nights and Sunday nights are also pretty fantastic.
[00:07:17] So you've intrigued me, I want to know more about Friday and Saturday nights, I mean this is a bar where you can play shuffleboard. Actually, it's a good question, is it a bar where you can play shuffleboard or is it shuffleboard where you can get a drink?
[00:07:29] That's funny, so that's why we needed such a big building because we were like we don't want to be a bar that has shuffleboard, we want to be a shuffleboard club that has a bar and shuffleboard courts are six feet by 60 feet, it is a ludicrous waste of real estate. So we have ten regulation-sized courts in New York and Chicago, and Chicago I also have one on the roof and you know what's great about it is it's this giant space, and someone told me once well you built a bar for introverts. I'm not much of a drinker and I never got to hang up going to bar, so it's ridiculous that I own this giant you know crowded nightclub.
But because there's all this space in the middle of it that's not used, it never feels crazy packed and uncomfortable in there. And because it's so big there's like little things to do in every area, you know we have board games and there could be someone in the corner playing Settlers of Cathan for three hours, while somebody's on the other side dancing to the DJ, well somebody's getting food from the food truck like you can kind of choose your own adventure there which I think is really cool.
[00:08:46] How do you get a business plan from going from Florida to this humongous conglomerate that you've got running now, I mean you must have an amazing team.
[00:08:56] So the business plan itself it's a funny thing because obviously we didn't know anything about any of this and it was like okay well we have to raise money, we don't know how much money to raise, you know really we were smart enough at that point to ask anyone who would make eye contact with us to go to coffee, and we would just sit down with anybody from you know a restaurant owner to the person who was a napkin distributor, to someone who made whiskey to anybody who would talk to us we would talk to them. And so we really kind of collated a bunch of information that way, and then we borrowed someone else's business plan from a totally different industry, I don't even remember whose it was.
But we just took what the subjects were, like what goes into a business I'm like okay so in one section we need to talk about the neighborhood, and then in one section we need to talk about our competition, and in once section we needed to talk about the problem we're solving and so we just figured out what went into a business plan and then we wrote it.
But we wrote it very flowery and transported and we had colored pictures and images and funny things, and you know it wasn't this staid, professional business plan but as a result it really imparted and evoke the sort of transported feeling we were trying to explain about what we were hoping to do with the club. And the mayor's office in New York City told me that it was the second-best business plan they had ever read, and I was like huh really wat was the first business plan?
[00:10:37] We talked about where you are on personality, I'm pretty sure you're an achiever just by that statement, I'm going to go with achiever, yes.
[00:10:46] I think that yes you're probably right, I think I mentioned that I have under lead singer this children stand and we met with great success but it was never quite enough. Someone said to me what why is it that unless you become the Beatles you will not experience this as being successful, and people ask me all the time you know with the club like oh my gosh are you just so happy, I mean it's just crazy and I'm like no I'm not happy, I'm Jewish.
Like are you kidding, I'm waiting for it to be over I will be happy when we turn the keys back in and we walk away and nobody died, and we lived through it and it didn't run down, and we didn't get sued, once it's over I can go huh that went okay.
[00:11:36] But you were planning to expand, because you're fearless, so whatever you say I believe it's going to be done plus.
[00:11:44] Yes, you know I'm single, I'm in my forties, I spend all my money on my dog and he's got everything he needs, the kids got everything they need, they do not need any more toys or food or anything. So at some point you're like what is it that's moving me to do this, because it's not money and so I realized that I love my staff, really my superpower and I think that a huge part of what makes our place successful is that I'm great at hiring amazing, gorgeous, smart, funny, interesting people and my staff just makes the whole thing work.
And so I see them their lives change and grow and get bigger from being a part of this, and they've all become such good friends and so there's that, and then there's also the leagues and how I see those people's lives changing and these communities grow and people have fallen in love, and got married and started businesses and had children, and we've given them you know that we bought a support. It's not like just like a place you go where everybody knows your name, they found something that they're truly passionate about and you know I'm the 10th best female shuffleboard player in the world now.
[00:13:06] Are you really?
[00:13:07] I think it's crazy, I was the last person picked in PE always and I am an international athlete. One of my goals, I had a meeting with someone recently who helped get rugby into the Olympics and I'm like we need to talk. So I mean getting I don't know I've got a gold medal in me, but having one of my people win a gold medal at shuffle sport in the Olympics is a pretty good goal.
[00:13:32] You're fearless.
[00:14:22] Go ahead share a specific story where something wonderful happened, a couple fell in love, go ahead and give us some good chocolate detail.
[00:14:32] Well you know I'll tell you that I just brought 75 of my League members down to Florida to play in a shuffleboard tournament down there, we had so many people that we outnumbered the Floridians who were there playing. And they're probably 45 from New York and 30 from Chicago, and the New York cult has been open for five years, the Chicago club's only been open for a year so I was just dazzled at the fact that 35 people were willing to take time out of their lives to fly down to Florida to play in the shuffleboard tournament.
But I was gleeful watching like the New York League members fraternize with the Chicago League members, and it was like meeting people from your planet. I just watched them these are people who just by nature of being the sort of person who is seeking out playing an obscure leisure game once a week in a busy city, they were the same kind of people and it was so cool to watch them meet and bond and the flat fight that we were there we all went to karaoke.
And they were at one point somebody got up in saying landslide, Stevie Nicks landslide, and everybody was arm and arm swaying back and forth, singing the song together and I was like this is crazy, it was so wonderful to see, it was really great.
[00:16:04] You're inspirational, I mean do you go into everything with this heart and this passion?
[00:16:11] I mean it's hard to say I think I'm a vicious perfectionist, and so I want to manifest everything to its highest expression, not even consciously I just think that's my always sort of what I'm aiming for and so to me that means doing really well. And so like you know I was talking about this to someone the other day, my business partner Jonathan he's the number four player in the world, we are equally matched in our ambition, I'm interested to see what his personality test would be but he loved to win, that's his motivation. He loves to win, and I love to be the best, and actually, though there are two different things, like I could care less about winning if I'm not going to be the best at it. So yes I think is it, heart, I don't know, I think it's probably pathology.
[00:17:12] I don't know because I'm hearing a lot of coming back to relationships and making people happy, and enjoying that heart connect.
[00:17:22] It's definitely a dream come true family activity for people whose parents are visiting them from out of town, because they don't have to just I mean how many if your parents are there for a week, how many times can you just go to dinner and have conversation at dinner, like at some point you're done with the catching up and maybe you had a couple of deep conversations and a couple of conversations where your gossips about Aunt Sue, and then where do you go. And so to be able to go to a place where it's not just a bar, it's an activity that you can all do together, everybody's on equal footing because that's the amazing thing about shuffleboard.
You know it's a hundred-year-old game, but you're never going to meet anyone who was an all-state shuffleboard player. So everybody whose playing is at best they played with their grandparents in Florida when they were kids or on a cruise ship on vacation, but nobody any better than anybody else. And so unless you're playing the retirees in Florida who are bloodthirsty, hey will just cream you on the course.
And that's another sort of unexpected perk of shuffleboard, is that I have gotten to be friends with legions of 80-year-olds, it's like really truly friends with not like condescending visit them at the nursing home friends, like equals and really am in a Facebook friend with like 80-year-olds. And I've come to really know them as people in a way that I could never imagine; it's having that BS feature of my life.
[00:19:03] I mean with a mature audience interested in shuffleboard and everything, I mean does it take athletic skill, are you burning calories?
[00:19:11] So I didn't interview cooking light once and they did the research and I think they figured out that it burned 130 calories an hour, so you know enough for a bag of chips.
[00:19:21] All right, I'll take that.
[00:19:23] You're not going to break a sweat, but I don't know if they've done any research on how many calories you burn being stressed out, and there's definitely it's a tense nail-biter of a game. I mean really emotionally it's very stressful, so I like to think that I'm burning calories somewhere along the way, there's surely what the court is all.
[00:19:48] What is your mission statement, if you really had to say I love everything you're pouring into this, I mean you're incredible.
[00:19:56] I think in both my life and my business my goal is always connection, and whether that is seeing other people connect with each other, seeing my staff connect with our guests and with each other, connecting myself with those people I think a lot of times I feel like I moved through the world a little bit like an alien, it's a very other.
And I'm always searching for fellow aliens, I'm looking around and I'm trying to put myself always in a position to meet people from me to it. I'm like are you a European, so I think connection for me to my people and also to see other people finding their people is really where I derive the most joy, and at the end that's the only reason I think any of us do anything.
[00:20:55] And so I haven't even gotten into any of the left brain stuff, because you're just so loving and you're so right brain. But to get into the left brain stuff, for those of us who don't play shuffleboard, never have but will after this for sure, I mean what do we need to know do I need to have special shoes, is it like walking into a bowling alley, do you rent the stuff when you get there?
[00:21:15] You don't, it's really come as you are especially in our club because you know people, when I designed the club I worked with hotel designers instead of our designers, because I really wanted it to be the sort of space that first of all you had to feel instantly at home when you got there, it didn't feel intimidating even if it was grand. And also it's the sort of place you could feel at home in a tuxedo, and feel at home traipsing judo lobby and flip-flops and a bathing suit. And so it's really valuable that way in terms of coming as you are, I heard somebody told me that once and I thought actually I may yell for to you or they said if you think you're not cool enough for this place, you are everybody's cool enough for this place, which I thought was such a great compliment.
One of the things I tell people all the time because they say oh I've never played shuffleboard, I mean there's a certain group of people who grew up with playing shuffleboard in Florida or on vacation and they know what it is, but after it drops off after a certain age and I have young people ask me if I invented the game when they come to the club. They really have never seen it before; if I'm talking to my Lyft driver I've got to pull out my business card just show him the picture on the front to explain how to game work. But my staff gives everybody a lesson, as soon as they get down on the courts in two minutes and you're up and playing, it's very hard to be very good at shuffleboard, but it's very hard to be very bad at shuffleboard.
It's really something everybody can play and as I mentioned I have no hand-eye coordination or athletic ability, so if you and I went play ping pong I would never ever hit the ball back to you, I just did which goes flying all over the place or I'll miss it, it would just be a disaster and wouldn't be fun for either one of us. And you know same with pool, I didn't want to miss and then you clear the board well I just watched you do it, and you know with bowling you have to actually be pretty good to enjoy it otherwise you're just getting up to be embarrassed and disappointed. And also you're only really paying attention to the other person to be polite, unless you're being competitive with bowling you have no vested interest in what the person is doing, besides just rooting them on.
But in shuffleboard, you're playing next to your opponent and across from your partner, until first of all, it's a very connected opportunity to like have a conversation with someone because you're accountable to them, there's just the two of you next to each other for the time that you're playing. And one of my favorite things about the club is that if you scan the room nobody's ever on their cell phone, unless they're taking a picture they're never on their cellphone because you're really engaged, and you're standing next to the person even if it's awkward and you don't have anything to say to that person, you've got the game to focus on. And because your partner and their partner are across the way, you have a vested interest in what they're doing too so everybody's really interested in what's happening, and I think that that's a rare thing to find these days.
[00:24:23] It absolutely is, focus and concern for other people, I love that. So before we end this I've got to ask you about your cracker store and your cracker business very quickly. So I mean you sing for kids rock bands, you have shuffleboard business, after just going to play shuffleboard in Florida you just started this multi-million business and now you've got a cracker business and I'm just fascinated with it.
[00:24:48] Yes, so it's not a cracker store it's just a cracker company, it's called the matzo project and it's funny because it's very much based on my Jewish grandmother in South Florida, and shuffleboard also very much something I experienced with my grandparents or the kids. But somehow I'm just really all of my endeavors are just at one giant homage to my grandparents, but it's an artisanal matzah company and matzah is a cracker that traditionally eaten by Jewish people one week of the year Passover, and very stereotypically thought of as a spectacularly, un-delicious, not sexy cracker. It's called the bread of affliction for a reason, it is just dry and card boardie and not something that is, it’s beloved but in the way fruitcake is beloved the last thing you read much here and I'm not in any way religious.
But you know I buy matzah the way I would buy eggnog during the holidays like you know to participate and the festivities of it you might buy a box of matzah, but in the end, it's really just a good neutral crispy cracker. When I tell people about it is that it's more versatile than a pita chip, more flavorful than water cracker and more elegant than a Saltine, but it falls into that category. And so we have the traditional matzah crackers but we also invented something called the matzah chip, which is sort of like a pita chip or bagel chess but much you can eat many more of them, they're not quite as heavy.
And I have flavors which are revolutionary for matzo, so I have an everything flavor and the cinnamon sugar flavor and we just came out with a harissa flavor, and then I also make a matzo ball soup kit. Which is a new way that most people are familiar with matzo, and I don't think a lot of people don't realize that matzo balls are made for lots of matzahs because that's the thing you do eat year-round. And then I have a chocolate cluster called an egg Apache, that's a sort of wonder cluster of matzo caramelized rice and peanuts and salt chocolates really, dangerously delicious.
[00:27:07] You don't have to be Jewish to eat it because they sound really good, where can I get them?
[00:27:11] No, in fact I think Jewish people have the worst reaction to them, because they're like thanks anyway I've had enough matzah that'll last me a lifetime, it's really not Jewish people who are buying, it's a summons in a lot of little you know toolbox, specialty food stores and cheese shops and places where they don't even have a kosher section or a place where you would ordinarily go shopping for that sort of thing, it's really just an elegant cracker. And the box itself is very funny and eye-catching, so a lot of people apply it first for the package and then they try it, they go oh this is actually really delicious.
[00:27:52] Actually I'm serious I feel like we're just scratching the surface, but maybe we can have you on a follow-up maybe later this year, and see how things are going in, and see how many states you've moved into with your shuffleboard.
[00:28:05] Well thank you.
[00:28:06] Yes, thank you so much for taking the time, it was such a fun conversation, I really appreciate it.
[00:28:11] And when people want to contact you because you're just this awesome cool person, how do they get ahold of you?
[00:28:16] Well you know we're RoyalPalmsshuffle.com is our website, matzoproject.com is our matzo website, and yes that's the best way to find me and so personally you can find me on Instagram at PluckyT.
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