Five Decades of Fun
Semi-Retired Bowling Proprietor Don MacBrayne Celebrates 50 Years
by Matt Harding
Don MacBrayne, the former Brunswick exec turned co-owner of The Summit, is still involved in the industry after selling his three-center Colorado chain to Main Event in March 2022. He’s now a consultant for a few businesses, and though he’s enjoying his retirement, he plans to remain active for the foreseeable future.
He got his start in 1973 while still in high school at a 36-lane bowling center in Vancouver, Canada, where he grew up. From there, he got involved with Brunswick Zone XL’s management program and eventually became a GM for the FEC brand’s locations from Vancouver all the way down the West Coast to Los Angeles.
MacBrayne did that for about 16 years, then became a multi-unit operator for the company and retired in 2013 as its VP of operations.
“When I was nearing the end of my career with Brunswick, I was really trying to figure out what I was going to do next,” he said. Being in his mid-50s at the time, he added, “I still had lots of gas in the tank.”
MacBrayne ended up linking with a trio of developers in the Denver area, where he lives. “We got to know one another because they were interested in getting into the bowling business but not wanting to operate,” he said. “They were developers for 30-plus years before we started Performance Entertainment, which owned The Summit brand. They wanted to get into this business, but they weren’t operators.”
As developers of high-end condo complexes, commercial buildings and the like, he said, their goal was the exit plan. “Most of us in the FEC business are build and hold for the next three generations,” MacBrayne said with a laugh.
The strategy paid dividends as the trio of developers turned the trio of fun centers into award-winning cash cows, thanks in large part to MacBrayne’s experience. (Don won BPAA’s Proprietor of the Year Award in 2022 for his efforts at The Summit.)
The Summit locations – in Windsor, Colorado Springs and Thornton – are about 50,000 sq. ft. each with 32 lanes of bowling (of those, eight are VIP lanes). They also have game rooms with redemption stores at about 6,000 sq. ft. apiece and laser tag. Of course, like any FEC worth its salt today, there was a full kitchen and large restaurant with patios and event spaces.
“We focused on active adults,” he explained, noting that their target demographic was 21-44. “From the lighting to the music to the service model to the products – it was all geared toward that age group, knowing the rest would come.”
“I just really enjoy the guest experience,” he said. “We used to call them league bowlers back in the day, but it sort of graduated to ‘guests’ because a bigger part of the business started coming not from leagues but from casual bowlers, which changed the whole business model.”
He and his partners built The Summit up to about 100 employees at each location (roughly 25 full-timers and 75 part-timers at each). “You have to build a great team in order to have a successful operation and that was a great enjoyment for me,” MacBrayne added.
“The beauty about bowling-anchored FECs – and FECs in general – is you really are a big part of the community,” he said. “As a group, we decided early that we were going to be a big part of the community and a big part of our team members’ lives. All through the pandemic, all of our full-time people never lost an hour of pay. We just pushed right through.”
Following The Summit’s great success, Main Event then came knocking, figuring the facilities would be easily convertible into their business model. (While the FECs still operate as The Summit, the brand name will be changing over sometime this year.)
“They were quite interested in Colorado and they would get three great businesses in the state,” MacBrayne said. “They already had one location here and they were majorly interested in The Summit to learn a few things. Our average center volume was higher, and they were interested in how we put through so much bowling and beverage revenue in particular.”
He continued: “We were ready to sell. I was 66 and I was the youngest of my partners. It was just a great time for everybody. We were Main Event’s first acquisition ever.” (Shortly after the sale, Main Event itself was acquired by Dave & Buster’s in a blockbuster deal worth a reported $835 million.)
After the sale, MacBrayne continued to operate the locations through early this year, saying it was a “nice transition for our team to learn about Main Event and get comfortable in that environment.”
In addition to his light consultant work, he’s now a new AMOA board member and plans to remain very active with the association.
Congrats on 50 years, Don! The industry still has a lot to learn from you!