It’s a Sunny Story
Oregon Fun Center Constantly Keeps Up With the Times
by Matt Harding
If you’ve never heard of Sunny’s Fun Factory in Bend, Oregon, that’s probably because it doesn’t exactly exist – yet. But it will come this spring after the latest remodel of what’s been known for many years as Sun Mountain Fun Center.
Originally built in 1994 as a bowling center and opened as Sun Mountain Lanes, the facility has undergone numerous changes over the years to stay fresh and relevant.
The family-owned business, started by Ed and Cathy Ramsay, transformed into a fun center in 1997 after a bigger bowling alley came to town, according to their son Scott, who now owns and operates the business with his wife, Gitta, and their daughter Allison.
At that time, they added a small arcade along with outdoor attractions including mini-golf, go-karts and batting cages. Scott and Gitta got involved in 1998, managing the venue. That lasted for about 18 months, he said, until the stresses of working for family became too great.
Before that stint in the family business, Scott had moved to New York City to work in the film industry, where he made props for film, television and theatre. He’s operated numerous businesses of his own then and now, and was even a city councilor in Bend from 2011-14. In other words, he likes running things.
In 2004, after the death of his brother, he and Gitta came back to the fun center as partners in the business. “As a family unit, we reevaluated what all of this was about,” he said.
The team got to work that year with an even bigger expansion than the first, building extra space in order to triple the size of the arcade. They bought their own games for the first time, created a redemption counter and added bumper cars into the mix. A third remodel since then focused on a food revamp, including redoing the kitchen.
Now, they’re in the middle of their biggest yet. Rebranding to Sunny’s Fun Factory is only one element. They’re adding laser tag and virtual reality, and transforming the facility to be more of an adult-themed experience while keeping the family vibe intact.
“Bend is a tourist town,” Ramsay explained. “We make Top 5 lists all the time. It’s also one of the fastest growing cities in the country.” It has ballooned to nearly 100,000 people, while only 52,000 people lived there in the year 2000.
“The demographics have changed, too, with a lot of urban people coming to the area,” he added. It used to be more wealthy retirees, but now there’s a sizable 30-something crowd.
“Parents now are having their recreation activities and taking their kids with them,” Ramsay said. “It’s more of an interactive thing, and we’re trying to bridge that gap.” He said the concept is to make it easier for young parents to sit down, have some food and drinks, and let their kids run around in the arcade before joining them.
The remodel officially started in June, finding contractors and pinning down what they wanted. The first step was to remove six of their 24 bowling lanes, which is where the laser tag will go. (The facility will remain mostly open throughout the duration of construction.)
“We’re bringing our bowling experience to a modern experience, with cool, comfortable seating and lighting effects,” Ramsay said. Despite Sun Mountain’s start as a bowling center, the sport is not a huge piece of its economic puzzle.
“I think any time you have bowling in your facility, people see it as the anchor because it takes up so much space,” he said. However, they haven’t had leagues since 1998. Still, it’s important – something that just needed a shakeup. When it reopens, guests will be charged hourly instead of by the game.
The arcade is the 35,000-sq.-ft. facility’s true anchor, raking in about 38 percent of revenue, Ramsay said. They have 140 arcade games and a pretty evenly split between redemption units and video games. At 11,000 sq. ft., the arcade takes up about one-third of the floor space. A redemption store will be added to replace the current redemption counter.
With the remodel, it’s out with the old, in with the new. They have hits like Halo and Willy Wonka already on the game room floor, and recently moved in Virtual Rabbids. They’re going to be adding the 4-player Hologate VR system soon.
“We know that VR is going to be the future of gaming,” Ramsay said. “Anything you can’t really do at home is going to be what plays well. We went around and tested all the companies to see which one we liked the best.
“We’re diversifying so we can give a more well-rounded package.”
Part of that is the Creative Works-designed laser tag arena, using Zone’s equipment. The theme will be an abandoned apocalyptic warehouse, a nod to Bend’s history as an old mill town.
Following up their last remodel, another revamp of the food and beverage is due. It makes up just over 25 percent of revenue for the business, and is likely to be a huge part of Sunny’s future. Bend is a big brewery destination, and Ramsay expects more younger people to come in just for the food (like local, grass-fed beef), microbrews and the environment.
“We’re going to work on the presentation of the food and the dining experience itself,” he said. It’s about making everything better and more well-rounded. After all, there’s a whole lot of nearby competition vying for the same people.
“We have tons of restaurants around, and in the entertainment scope, we compete with our environment here,” Ramsay said, noting mountain biking and skiing are hugely popular in the region. More than 50 percent of the FEC’s business comes from tourists, he said, so they’re putting an added focus on locals.
“If we can retain those tourists and get our local base up, it’ll be a win-win for us.”
And a win-win for the community of travelers and locals in Bend, who for years and years have passed through a fresh and relevant Sun Mountain Fun Center – and now the soon-to-be Sunny’s Fun Factory.
You can continue to visit them in person at 300 NE Bend River Mall Drive and online at www.sunmountainfun.com.