Florida Keys Gets an FEC!
Father-and-Son Team of Mark and Matt Struhs Open Pinfish Entertainment Center
If you’ve ever been to the Florida Keys, you’re struck by its beauty, the abundance of marine life, activities on and in the water, and the seafood, bars and nightlife. What you might not have noticed is something that it’s been sorely lacking: a family fun center.
The father-and-son team of Mark and Matt Struhs have changed that with the opening of Pinfish Entertainment Center, located in Tavernier on Key Largo, the largest of the upper Florida Keys. Opening in September, the 6,500-sq.-ft. footprint location packs a lot of entertainment for all ages in a small footprint. There are four lanes of Fly’n Ducks bowling from QubicaAMF, three axe-throwing lanes, 32 arcade games procured through Betson, an Embed payment system and a self-service tap wall system offering 20 beer and wine options, plus great food. In short, it’s a whole lot of fun for all ages!
For Mark Struhs, Pinfish gets him into a side of the industry he’s never directly participated in: the operations, or retail, level. “I’ve always been on the other end of the spectrum, in manufacturing,” Mark said. “I’ve obviously been involved in that, but never at the ‘turning the key in the door’ level, as I call it. I have so much respect – always have – for the people who make that investment, have the sleepless nights and work through all the challenges that go with turning the key in the door.”
For son Matt, Pinfish opens up a new chapter in his life following his 20-year career in the Navy SEALs. It was Matt considering retirement and charting a course toward his next horizon that led the duo to the project. He’s lived in the Keys with his wife April and their two sons since 2018 and his father would come to visit, fish and scuba dive. “We looked at the area and realized there really isn’t an entertainment option here that’s not on the water or in a bar or restaurant, and started kicking the idea around,” he said.
It’s been an exciting time but for both men, though, the best part of the project has been working together.
“Matt is so humble, but he has done amazing things in his service career,” Mark said. “The idea that he can now turn his attention to something that’s fun and focused on making people smile has been such a joy. He’s been very, very busy these last 20 years so being able to reacquaint and get to know each other again has been the best part for me by far.”
Matt echoed those sentiments. “I’ve always been intrigued by the industry,” he said. “It’s really attractive from a fun perspective, which you certainly experience if you’ve grown up in it. And then to be able to work with my dad on something centered around having fun, well, that’s very attractive!”
From the early discussions, the pair began their research, learning the local market, understanding commercial real estate, zoning and things like that which ultimately led to a feasibility study.
When crafting their entertainment mix, Matt and Mark set out to create a venue that would draw visitors to the Keys but also create year-round, repeat visits from locals, something that’s especially important during tourism’s “off-season.”
“My family lives here so we’re very much a part of the local community, which has really helped us in rallying support in opening this new business. So, we feel very strongly about offering fun, exciting entertainment for the foreseeable future,” Matt said. “We’re doing things like starting duckpin bowling leagues, getting our first one going this fall. We’re also planning axe-throwing tournaments.” The venue has also added adult comedy nights to its lineup.
Parties factor strongly into the fun at Pinfish, even though their small footprint doesn’t offer the luxury of having dedicated party rooms. Said Matt, “We’ve used our bowling lanes as a great resource to structure our parties and that’s worked really well for us.”
On the food front, Matt said, “My team has done a great job at turning entertainment center food into more of a desirable cuisine. For example, our nachos are not your average nachos. We get positive comments all the time; customers are just blown away by how the seemingly simple food is done at such a high level.”
For redemption, they use a counter instead of a store model. “Our prize counter has been a huge success for all ages,” said Matt, who said they made sure to have prizes adults would want to win, too. “We were looking for prizes that everybody wants. The counter brings out the kid in everybody.”
Matt said they were fortunate to have a great group of vendors to help them make some of the decisions. Prominent on that list was the team at QubicaAMF, especially Jack Siefert and Greg Dow.
“And then there’s the game room, where my dad’s decades of experience really came into play,” Matt said.” It has been absolutely fun to watch his knowledge get put into practice. Everyone at Betson has been very helpful; we worked closely with Joe Herbert. He’s absolutely amazing.”
Matt is especially excited to dig deeper into the data the Embed system provides.
“We’re just scratching the surface with understanding all the value there,” he said. Matt’s most-recent military experience involved organizing a data science team, and that coupled with his master’s degree in operations research with an emphasis on data analytics, tells you that his dives into the information the system provides will indeed be deep.
“Something that really excites me is the application technology, turning our data into a strategic asset and really understanding the performance of each attraction and how it plays off the others,” he said.
While the fun center’s September opening means it got underway during the “slow season” for the Keys, Matt explained, there was a silver lining. “Doing so had its pros and cons but it gave us the luxury of not being overwhelmed with tourism while still having the local community to help us grow and get set up. We started with our low-season hours, being open five days a week, and when spring comes – the beginning of the high season – we’re going to go up to seven days a week.”
Like a lot of operators, they were concerned that they’d face hiring and staffing challenges, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Said Matt, “I was nervous about that, but it turns out if you offer a really fun place to work, good compensation and a good environment, you can find great team members. We’ve got an amazing staff of 14 and they get mentioned all the time in reviews. I just couldn’t be more pleased and proud of the Pinfish staff.”
He continued, “The most gratifying thing for me about Pinfish is the immediate feedback when you get something right, and that the nature of the business is fun, creating smiles and laughter. I feel a great sense of gratification when I see a family or a couple – or just anyone – come in and enjoy Pinfish. I love it when someone comes in thinking that we’re just a small arcade for kids and then they say things like ‘I’m coming back next week with just my adult friends.’ They get it.”
And get it they do. The location was already honored with two awards from Keys Weekly for the 2023 “Best Place to Take the Kids” and “Best New Business.”
The Pinfish team remains focused on using best practices up and down, getting the processes and procedures right. Matt said, “We’re trying to incorporate technology where it makes sense and develop our data strategy, so we understand how our attractions are performing, how our guests are engaging with our location and how to optimize funds. All of that is important.
“But,” he quickly added, “the number one task is to maximize fun!”
If you’re in the Keys, be sure to stop in to experience the fun of Pinfish for yourself. Meanwhile, keep up with the location by visiting them online at www.pinfishentertainment.com.