Social Amusements a “One-Stop Shop”
Owner Steve Fernandez Keeps Growing Southern California Route
by Matt Harding
At the end of 2013, Army veteran Steve Fernandez was looking for something new, having been in computer graphics for about 20 years. “I felt I was at the point where I was really good at that, but I started getting burned out.”
He found out about someone selling an amusement route that had dwindled down from 46 accounts to four. “Maybe somebody could revive it,” the operator told him.
So, Fernandez bought the route for about $10,000, using his vehicle title as collateral because he didn’t have all the cash at the time. “I’m going to try this – something different,” he said.
The small route had an old CD jukebox at an American Legion, a Pac-Man at a bar and some other equipment on location. Not much, but it was something he was determined to make work. “I had a vision and today I look at it as the best thing I’ve done,” Fernandez said. “It opened so many doors and opportunities.”
In those early days, he continued working his full-time job in computer graphics while building the route but very quickly decided to do that part-time to focus on his new business and getting a college degree.
He was only making $300 a month on the route but was able to supplement that with income from his now part-time computer graphics job and financial aid money. Fernandez was able to quit his day job at the end of 2015 and graduated with a degree in small business management in 2016 – going full speed ahead with his route, now called Social Amusements, based in Commerce, California, just outside of Los Angeles.
“After that, I was just hungry,” he said. “I was going all over trying to land new accounts.”
Social Amusements began to grow, operating digital jukeboxes, pool tables, arcade games, ATMs and more. “I’m like the one-stop shop for everything,” he said. “I was so happy when I landed my first account.”
Leveraging his military background, American Legions were among some of the first locations he landed, as well as VFW halls and Elks lodges. He operates in roughly 11-12 American Legion locations and VFWs today.
“Next thing you know, I’m landing all these locations,” Fernandez said, adding that many of his accounts are bars and breweries. Today, Social Amusements has 91 accounts. “I’m very picky with my accounts now,” he added, noting that his main focus is on bars.
That makes sense, because at the end of 2019, he decided to buy The Blue Moon Lounge in Glendale. It’s a sports bar with beer and cocktails, pool tables and arcade games. He said the bar caters to people in their 20s and 30s with pool leagues on Wednesdays, beer pong on Thursdays, a taco truck from Thursday to Saturday, DJs on Saturdays and more.
“By going to different bars with Social, I’ve been able to see what other people are doing and what works best,” Fernandez said.
His route runs from way out in Barstow (halfway between L.A. and Las Vegas) to Ventura at the west, Riverside at the east and Dana Point at the south. About 85% of the route is jukeboxes (plus arcades, pool tables and a smattering of other equipment) and 15% is ATMs. “I love jukeboxes,” he noted. “That’s my thing.”
Social Amusements uses both AMI and TouchTunes jukes. And even though he’s a relative newcomer to the industry with less than 10 years under his belt, Fernandez started servicing everything himself on CD jukes.
“I came from the computer graphics industry,” he reiterated. “I didn’t know anything about installing any of this stuff. I remember my wife and I getting so frustrated with a CD jukebox. It was really difficult … I’m so glad I took the step into digital when I did.”
In one location, he has a 10-game arcade with a few pinballs, Big Buck Hunter and the like. Another customer of his wants a 15-piece game room on their bar patio in the city of Ontario.
The job has become easier for him and has allowed Social Amusements to grow bigger as he’s developed relationships with his accounts.
“Especially now that I’m a bar owner, a lot of them understand me better,” he said. “I’m so glad I bought the bar.”
As for route equipment, he buys whenever he needs it – including a recent purchase of 10 jukeboxes. He attends Amusement Expo, CEMA’s showcase and the Nightclub and Bar Show, where he had a booth in 2019.
Fernandez has big plans for the continued success of his business. Social Amusement owns not only the juke route, which is still very much growing, but also real estate and L.A. Rams season tickets, too. He also would like to buy another bar in a couple years.
“In five years, I plan on retiring,” Fernandez said. “The sky’s the limit for me. I don’t know how big it’s going to get.
“I didn’t foresee myself getting to this point even,” he added, noting that 5-6 years ago, he was astonished by competitors who had 40 accounts.
“I’m going to grow this to an empire if I can. I’m going to keep growing and growing. Social’s going to be something gigantic.”