Scott and Jenny Emley always dreamed of launching a family business. This past January, their dream became a reality with the launch of High 5 Entertainment in Lakeway, Texas, a multi-faceted recreation center that is a family business in all senses of the word — serving clients “from age 2 to 102,” said Scott Emley with pride.
The Emleys’ ambition is as big as Texas: “We want to become the top entertainment destination in Austin,” Emley said. A 46,000-square-foot facility, High 5 offers 28 bowling lanes, a full-service restaurant, a laser tag arena, an upstairs bar and lounge and a video arcade. It was one of the first commercial tenants to open at the newly developed Oaks at Lakeway, a 90-acre mixed-use shopping center owned by Stratus Properties that will include dining, shopping and entertainment venues.
Bowling, which appeals to all ages as an enduring social ritual, is the linchpin of High 5, Emley said. The sport is the top destination for birthdays, he explained, as well as a favorite for company team-building functions, family nights out and competitive leagues that meet regularly.
“Bowling is the driver for the total experience,” confirmed Thomas Funk, vice president of operations for High 5 and a veteran manager of entertainment centers. “When we say ‘Everybody bowls,’ we can tell you that our demographic is ages 4 to 90 – youth bowling clubs, senior bowling days and everything in between. Whether it’s a birthday, group or corporate event, bowling is in every package sold.”
What sets High 5 apart from other bowling facilities is a focus on world-class service – Emley’s words – as well as a modern recreation center that is shiny and state-of-the-art. “Bowling used to have an image of an old smoke-filled alley,” said Funk, adding that today’s proprietors spend millions on high-tech equipment, appealing décor, upscale services and diverse entertainment offerings aimed at families of all ages. Bowling may get them in the door – but High 5 is counting on its 60-plus arcade games, a double-story laser tag arena, the restaurant and two bars to keep guests coming back.
And since those guests are their neighbors, the Emleys are confident they know their audience. They chose Lakeway for the venture because it was already home – and because the local demographics favor family entertainment: “It turns out our community is a lot like us,” Scott Emley said, “families with children who want to have fun.”
Before opening High 5, Scott Emley worked as a technology expert for a series of semiconductor companies; Jenny was a first-grade teacher, and the couple has three young children. The pair saw a need for a place where kids could blow off steam indoors – especially in the hot Texas summer, when school is out and the sun is strong – and where adults could gather to socialize as well. While the entire facility is family-friendly, High 5 reserves its upstairs lounge and bowling for adults after 8 p.m., an arrangement aimed at the after-work crowd.
Also on tap for the grown-ups: a libations menu heavy on Texas pride. Big Bend, Infamous, Solid Rock and Hops and Grain are among the local brews on draft, while the wines include selections from the up-and-coming Texas Wine Country. Fans of artisanal spirits enjoy offerings from Texas distilleries such as Herman Marshall, a Dallas producer of handcrafted, small-batch whiskey, which High 5 bartenders have worked into a menu of innovative cocktails, Emley said.
To go with the drinks, High 5 makes its all-American dining menu available wherever hunger strikes – at the full-service restaurant, at both bars and at all 28 bowling lanes, said Emley. “Food and beverage is a huge component of the full entertainment experience,” he explained. “It’s very rare that someone comes to bowl without coming to eat or drink.” To that end, Emley added, success depends on tasty, appealing menus served with a smile.
For now, the fare offers an upscale twist on classic American favorites like burgers, hand-tossed pizzas and Emley’s personal favorite – the Great Scott, a grilled three-cheese sandwich with Applewood-smoked bacon, tomato and Tex-Mex jalapeños. Desserts include the High 5 Split, a frozen crowd-pleaser. High 5’s food strategy is to release the menu items gradually, Emley noted, in an effort to balance service with fast ticket times – the number of minutes a guest waits to receive a food order.
That is, if the guests can slow down enough to wait at all. Upstairs and downstairs, High 5 vibrates with the constant whiz of balls and pins in the bowling lanes, a lively atmosphere that Thomas Funk credits to a well-designed layout. “With 16 lanes on the first floor, families, church groups and kids’ birthday parties have a great venue to enjoy themselves,” he said. The remaining dozen lanes are strategically located on the mezzanine level, lending a more adult vibe to upstairs bowling. “They have their own cocktail lounge and meeting space,” Funk said of the adults’ mezzanine area.
Laser tag is a newer addition to the American entertainment scene – but it’s gaining fast, with fans of all ages drawn to the flashing lights and let-loose style of play that some have compared to paintball, only cleaner. For High 5, Erik Guthrie, vice president of sales and marketing at Zone Laser Tag in Dover, Delaware, worked with ARC Laser Tag Arenas to create a customized, immersive play environment on two levels. “The second level was enclosed, so that it was not wide open, creating a competitive-style arena,” explained Guthrie, a laser tag guru who is the founder of National Laser Tag Day.
Unique features of the arena include specially designed lighting that changes colors along the perimeter walls based on player-movement sensors, Guthrie said, as well as a sound environment that enhances play. An LED sign outside the arena changes color to indicate whether or not a game is in play, letting the staff know at a glance what’s going on. “The only real challenge to this installation was that the laser tag arena is located in a corner of the facility without a lot of visibility,” said Guthrie. So the ARC and Zone teams collaborated on a scheme of visually arresting paint and mural work to draw guests’ eyes toward the area.
Much is at stake with this modern amenity, Guthrie added. “Our goal for laser tag is for it to constantly be in the top two of their revenue generators year after year,” he said, noting that the Emleys hired some of the top names in the amusement industry to realize the facility. “We can already tell that High 5 will become a showcase location in Texas for how to develop a bowling entertainment center correctly.”
Scott Emley credited a lot of that success to his background in business and technology. But his personal values, he said, are what inform everything about High 5, which he envisions as a joining of work, family and community.
“My passion has always been to join my wife in a family business,” he said, “with our love, our faith and our desire to serve our neighbors.”