Poppy Bank Epicenter Embraces Constant Change While Looking Ahead to 2023
At the depth of the Covid shutdowns, they had nothing to do at Epicenter but think.
“We spent a lot of time hoping that the business and our jobs would survive, and we spent as much time as we could trying to focus on ways to make the business even better if we could reopen,” said Jenny Ogston, General Manager for the facility.
After fifteen months of being shut down, the day finally came when Ogston’s visions could come to life in June of 2021. Since then, the only constant at 3215 Coffey Lane has been change.
New Business Names
One of the first changes made was to remove Starbucks from the facility and to reimagine the café space with local brands.
Ogston spearheaded this change as a way for Epicenter to get back to its local roots. “This whole building was born out of Sports City, which has been a local business here for about 25 years. When Epicenter was built, it was done exclusively through the hard work and financial contributions of local investors. It didn’t really make sense for us to be spending so much of our time and effort making money for one of the largest fast-food brands in the world when we could be promoting local businesses and brands instead.”
Ogston changed the name of that space to Piner & Coffey, and it now features Santa Rosa-based Bella Rosa Coffee and Tea & Trumpets products, along with Healdsburg-based Amy’s Wicked Slush.
Another name change in the building was the rebranding of the bowling facility from “7TEN Social Bowling and Upscale Lounge” to “Chuck’s.”
Along with the name change, the entire area was renovated to expose the original concrete floors and adding polished irregular redwood bars running the full length of the space. In addition, wine barrel tables and bar stool seating were added.
“I just love the new look of Chuck’s,” said Andy Kilsheimer, Assistant General Manager. “It’s such a great hangout spot now. It’s a place where people can come in any time of the day and get something to eat and drink and have a blast throwing axes or darts or bowling balls or just watch a game on one of the screens.”
The redwood mixed with the clean industrial look is a call out to the blue-collar work ethic of Sonoma County.
Perhaps the biggest and most noticeable name change is the name of the entire building. Gone is “Epicenter Sports and Entertainment” as it has been replaced by “Poppy Bank Epicenter.”
“Some people have assumed that Poppy Bank bought the company,” said Brad Bergum, CFO of Poppy Bank Epicenter. “But the reality is that this is just a naming rights deal that we signed with Poppy Bank. They gave us an opportunity to refinance our debt that we had with a national bank at terms that probably saved us from being forced to shut down the business. The deal didn’t change the ownership or management of the building or the business at all, but we absolutely love working with Poppy Bank and we are incredibly appreciative of the fact that they cared more about saving a local small business than maximizing their own profit.”
The most noticeable new attraction was the Axe Throwing arena, which came as part of the renovation of Chuck’s.
“It’s crazy how much people love to throw axes and knives,” Ogston said with a laugh. “We were able to design and build this axe throwing arena completely in-house, and I’ve yet to see a person try it and not have the biggest smile on their face. It’s the most affordable therapy there is.”
As evidence of just how fast trends change and business evolves, Ogston noted that the axe throwing at Chuck’s is already nearing its end-of-life.
“Yes, I already have plans for the next radical new change for that space,” she said with a laugh.
Game On Arcade hasn’t changed its name, but it’s an area that’s seeing constant evolution.
“We are always on the lookout for new games and attractions to keep Game On Arcade fresh and fun, said Kilsheimer.
Recent additions include its Omni Virtual Reality Arena and Nerf, Monopoly, Minecraft-themed games, along with four Mario Cart Racers.
The card swipe systems were upgraded and replaced with touch card systems, improving the reliability of the system and opening the door for app-based control of game cards in the coming months.
“We’ll be making some exciting changes and adding some great new attractions in 2023 as well,” Kilsheimer said, “The only constant in this business is change.”
Diversity is often used as little more than a marketing tagline in many businesses, but Poppy Bank Epicenter instead sees diversity as a common-sense best practice.
Ogston noted the parallels between the everyday lives of people in Sonoma County and the ways in which Poppy Bank Epicenter runs its business.
“We all have family, friends and co-workers of all abilities, ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations and gender identifies, and so we do what we can to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome here at Poppy Bank Epicenter.”
Ogston has worked closely with Common Ground Society to gain a better understanding of how the business could be more accessible to children of all abilities. From those discussions, Game On Arcade added a Sensory Room at the north end of the arcade for parents and children to use to escape the sometimes overwhelming noise and visuals of the arcade.
In addition, Game On Arcade purchased noise limiting headphones and light limiting glasses that can be checked out at guest services for any person who wishes to “turn things down” so they can have a more enjoyable experience in the arcade.
Poppy Bank Epicenter also continues to contract with Sonoma County Office of Education to host job training programs for special needs students.
Victory House, the 200 seat sports restaurant/bar and live events space, has hosted several drags shows and “Queeraoke” as part of its late night events. Poppy Bank Epicenter also hosted a Family Pride Event in June of 2022 to celebrate families of all kinds.
Poppy Bank Epicenter and Victory House have also hosted regular “Latino Nights” events, creating a venue for people of all backgrounds to dance the night away to Latin music.
Expanding Live Events
Victory House is known for its great sports viewing, kid-friendly atmosphere, expansive local beer selection, and for its menu packed with everyone’s favorites.
For those who stay up a bit later and like their entertainment a bit edgier, live events at Victory House and Poppy Bank Epicenter gained momentum in 2022 and will accelerate into 2023.
In addition to the adult-only late night drag shows, “Queeraoke,” and “Latino Nights,” there is a whole lot more going on almost every night of the week at Victory House and Poppy Bank Epicenter.
North Coast Comedy shows have been a staple at Poppy Bank Epicenter for several years, mostly in a 10pm start time. Starting in 2023, these shows will return to an 8pm start time and are being moved into “Window Room,” which seats roughly 100 comedy fans.
“Moving the comedy shows back into prime time will allow people to come in, grab some dinner, see the comedy show, and still have some time left to go enjoy everything else we have to offer,” said Bergum. We’re excited for this change and we’re excited to continue working with Jake Bernie at Total Bern Productions. He consistently pulls in the best comics from across the country onto our stage here in Santa Rosa.”
In 2022, Victory House Live Events hosted some of the largest indoor parties in Northern California, including selling out 750 tickets their Family New Year’s Eve Party, selling out 450 tickets for every Latino Nights event, and selling out 550 tickets for the Adult Halloween Bash.
“We are becoming more and more comfortable with using this huge building to have unique and amazing large parties,” said Ogsten. “We place a huge emphasis on security and we have a lot of extra rules in place for safety reasons that a vocal minority don’t like, but people seem to be getting used to how we do things and respect that we just want them to have a fun and safe night out.”
Victory House is also the home of all-ages free live music every Saturday night from 8:30 pm to 11 pm. During 2022, Victory House had free shows for bands including: School of Rock House Band, Culaan’s Hounds, Kid Galaga, The Sonoma Shakers, Stax City, and others.
In 2023, the free live music every Saturday night will continue until December, and features bands including Gas Money, Ryan Woodard Trio, Spike Sikes and His Awesome Hotcakes, The Igniters, Crash Pilot, Soul Emotions, Sour Flower, the Humdinger Band, The Fargo Brothers, Frankie Adel and the 7th Sons, and many more.
“We have been overwhelmed—in a good way—by the reaction to Victory House as a live music venue from both music fans and the bands of the North Bay,” said Bergum. “We have more bands reaching out to us asking to play than we have dates available. We’re planning to just keep growing these Saturday night shows and making Victory House and Chuck’s the natural places to go for people looking for fun on a Saturday night.
Weekdays at Victory House are filled with action as well. Rather than doing a “happy hour,” Victory House and Poppy Bank Epicenter feature “Happy Dayz,” running from noon to 6pm every weekday. During these hours, game cards and bowling are 25%, trampoline park access if $16 for the entire day, and Victory House and Chuck’s feature lunch/afternoon food and drink specials.
Wednesday nights feature Bingo by Jake Ward’s team, Thursday is Trivia Night hosted by the Kris Bartolome, and Sunday features Karaoke hosted by Danny Duclos.
Parties and Corporate Events
Despite the Sonoma County Shelter in Place Order that largely wiped-out group events in early 2022, Poppy Bank Epicenter had a record year for parties and corporate events.
In addition, the four birthday party suites, the 8 Bit events space, Chuck’s Garage private bowling lanes, Club 300 Banquet Room, and Trophy Room private event space, Poppy Bank Epicenter added the “Window Room” to their event space offerings late in 2022. This space accommodates up to 80 for events and features elegant design, high ceilings, and huge windows along the full length of the space.
“We’re really hitting our stride in corporate events,” said Ogston, “and our sales and operations teams have done a great job of taking those leads and turning them into successful and fun events.”
Poppy Bank Epicenter has hosted corporate events as large as 1,500 revelers, and has also found great success in partnering with local high schools and youth groups for “Sober Grad Nights” and similar events that give hundreds of young adults an all-night experience of a lifetime in a safe and controlled environment.
After surviving fires and floods and a global pandemic in its first few years of existence, Poppy Bank Epicenter is embracing the evolution of its operations to compete and survive as it eyes the 2023 and beyond.