As the front man for a partnership that owns and operates a slew of businesses that boasts McNellie's as its flagship operation, Elliot Nelson knows a thing or two about the restaurant business in Tulsa.
And he believes that downtown's Blue Dome district probably has reached its saturation level for eateries. But it's an area that still has a strong need for infill, he said.
"For me, we were kind of looking at it as the neighborhood had gotten maxed out on restaurants," he said, citing the Blue Dome Diner, Joe Momma's Pizza and his own Dilly Deli among the seven or eight restaurants that now reside in the district.
Throughout time, he believes, "It's going to be hard to sustain all those places. So we were looking to complement what had (been) already built."
Nelson didn't have to give the matter too much thought. Looking to add an entertainment option that was lacking from downtown, he has decided to build a bowling alley in the building next to the Dilly Deli. Nelson hopes to open the Dust Bowl at 211 S. Elgin by the middle or end of summer 2010.
The bowling alley will be a tight fit, he said. It will feature only eight lanes, each of which is 120 feet long--a number that barely works for the 150-foot building. But small, downtown bowling alleys are hardly unique, Nelson said. He discovered one in Philadelphia that is only a dozen lanes and another in Oklahoma City of about the same size. The 1930s-era building is 8,500 square feet and will share a patio with the adjacent Dilly Deli.
The addition of a bowling alley to downtown should serve as a particular delight to former Mayor Kathy Taylor, who often expressed her desire for such a project. Nelson laughed when reminded of that and said Taylor, who recently completed her term in office, called to convey her support for the business when she heard about it.
"She thought it was a great idea," he said. "I said, 'Great, send me a check.' "
Nelson said the renovation of the building, which at one time served as a garage, is likely to cost just shy of $1 million. The lanes alone, he said, will cost $400,000. But he fell in love with the idea of opening a bowling alley during summertime trips to visit his in-laws in northern Wisconsin. The bowling alley in their small town is only six lanes, but it's a hub of activity, and Nelson thought a similar project in Tulsa would help continue to build the neighborhood where he has concentrated many of his business interests.
And owning his own place will give him a chance to work on his game. As much as he enjoys it, he said, he harbors no illusions about his ability.
"I'm horrible," he said.
The Dust Bowl will feature a bar and a small kitchen producing a limited menu. Nelson said the restaurant's calling card is likely to be a lineup of gourmet corn dogs featuring four or five batters. There will also be an assortment of sandwiches and burgers. Nelson envisions offering lunch specials where customers can dine on a burger and drink, and bowl a couple of games for $10 to $12.
Plans call for the bowling alley to be open from 4pm to 2am Monday through Thursday and 11am to 2pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He hopes to position the Dust Bowl as an in-demand spot for celebrations.
"I think I've planned all my kids' birthday parties there for the next several years," he said.
Nelson doesn't plan on providing the Dust Bowl with the kind of chic, contemporary atmosphere that many new bowling alleys have opted for in recent years. This one will be strictly old school, he said.
"It's going to be more about 1950s Wisconsin and eating a bratwurst and drinking beer than Hollywood glamour," he said. "We're going to try to keep it more accessible."
Nelson also announced that his Tiny Lounge, which is losing its lease on its space at 818 E. 3rd St. in the East Village, is not going to disappear.
"We're keeping the name, and we're going to try to reopen it somewhere else," he said.
Nelson said he would be looking for a site somewhat below the radar, perhaps a location on 6th Street or 11th Street.
"One of the things we always liked about the Tiny Lounge was that it was in a different kind of neighborhood," he said.
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