A new Port Orchard business promises to be on the cutting edge of fun.
PenAxe opened its doors this summer and offers patrons the chance to hone their axe-throwing skills.
If you haven’t heard of axe-throwing before, you’re behind the times: The axe business is booming. Consumers reportedly spent $6 million at axe-throwing businesses through the Square payment platform in 2019, and between 2018 and 2019, there was a 319 percent increase in such businesses, according to Xola, an entertainment booking company.
PenAxe’s owners, Greg and Julie Randall, were introduced to axe-throwing in February 2020, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when some friends took them to an axe-throwing business in Wenatchee.
“We were throwing the axes down there, but we couldn’t get them to stick into the target,” Greg recalled. “After a little while we started becoming successful in getting the axe to at least stick in the target, and just had a really great time — a lot of laughter and fun with our friends, and it was a very enjoyable evening.”
Later, when they were driving back home, the couple got to talking.
“We weren’t aware of anybody that had an axe-throwing business open in western Washington, particularly here in Kitsap County,” Greg said. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if this is something that we could offer the community, something that’s different, that’s a bit more unique, that provides people an indoor activity that’s a little bit edgy and fun?’ And so we came back and we started doing some market research.”
They found that, at the time, there was just one axe-throwing venue in all of western Washington, in Seattle. It seemed like a wide open market and a golden opportunity, and they began looking for spaces that might accommodate such an activity. But the COVID pandemic hit and disrupted the momentum they’d built.
In the summer of 2021, they discovered that the new owners of Town Square Mall in Port Orchard were working on renovating the building and were eager to find interesting new tenants. They talked to mall management about their idea to start an axe-throwing business and they were open to the idea, said Greg.
“It was something they’d never heard of, and so they wanted to go back and do a little research themselves and figure out, one, is this something that’s safe, and two, is it really an industry that’s growing — is it something people would want? And they came back and said, we did our research and we agree that this could be a really fun thing for the community.”
The business serves snacks as well as beer. There are strict rules governing the consumption of alcohol on the premises to ensure safety. The Washington State Liquor & Cannabis Board passed regulations a year ago enabling axe-throwing businesses to obtain liquor licenses and serve alcohol, according to Axios.
Safety is a huge priority for the business. There are 14 axe-throwing lanes, and each lane is individually divided with a partition wall and safety wire to ensure an axe can’t travel into somebody else’s lane. Each lane is allowed only one thrower at a time. Safety coaches are on hand as well, both to monitor for safety and to give people pointers.
“We work very hard to provide an incredibly safe environment that everybody’s going to be able to go home in the same condition that they arrive in,” Greg said.
The establishment uses an interactive computer system that allows people to play a variety of games. There’s the traditional iteration in which people are awarded more points the closer they are to the bullseye. But there’s also games that project onto the target, such as zombie or duck hunter games. People can also compete within a lane, or against other lanes.
Participants must be 14 or older, but the business features a kid-friendly play space with plastic axes and targets, as well as other games including giant Jenga and a giant checkerboard.
Greg said it’s been exciting to see people having fun as they participate for the first time and see their skills improve.
“It’s exciting to watch your friends — ‘Oh hey, they just got their first one! Awesome, good job!’ — and then they get progressively better,” he said. “And it’s a very social thing because you’ve got one person up throwing, you’ve got several of you hanging back, and so now we can just talk and have fun. And so there’s a real social aspect to it in a casual, laid-back atmosphere. … We just saw it as the modern day bowling. Bowling’s been around for generations and it’s a fun game, but this adds a whole new level of something to do.”
Greg said there’s plans for a “phase two” expansion that would include adding a full service restaurant and the addition of new throwing lanes. They hope to launch those improvements sometime in 2024.