By Moses Leos III
It’s not hard to see the transformation taking place at the old Dorsett 221 Truck Stop on IH-35 in Buda these days.
After all, there’s a red mechanical dragon guarding the entrance of what will be Pinballz Kingdom, Buda’s new entertainment arcade, restaurant, bar and music venue.
For Darren and Mikki Spohn of Spohn and Associates, it’s a dream come true. With Pinballz slated to open this weekend — which includes hosting a watch party for the Texas/UCLA football game on Saturday — Spohn hopes things run as smoothly as possible.
“My biggest challenge is keeping everyone energized and focused to hit that big event on Saturday and be on the spot,” Spohn said. “We don’t want bad reviews. I want things to flow.”
The Spohns’ journey toward opening Pinballz began when they opened their first complex, Pinballz Arcade, in Austin. Spohn said they want to invest in “something cool and community oriented” with money made at three tech companies.
However, the two ran into issues in Austin; they were limited on what they could do. Darren called the zoning change process in Austin “horrendous.”
“We fought the city of Austin for a long time,” Spohn said. “We couldn’t serve beer or wine. We also wanted an indoor/outdoor concept.”
Darren and Mikki searched for the right place for their new venture. They chose Buda and the Dorsett 221 truck stop. Spohn said that Buda “was the perfect developing city” that was “still part of Austin” but far enough away.
He also said the city was friendlier toward small businesses.
Spohn began working with the Buda Economic Development Corporation in April 2013 under the guise of “Project Mario.” In July, the EDC and the city approved economic development incentives for Pinballz.
Spohn & Associates was awarded $62,000 in cash incentives from the EDC. Those funds were allocated toward permit fees, infrastructure, interior and exterior improvements. In return, Pinballz must create 25 full-time jobs and generate $100,000 in sales tax revenue by 2020. On its website as of Tuesday, there were six part-time positions listed.
As Pinballz moves into its full potential – with its focus on gaming – the jobs should follow. More than 200 cabinets, point redemption and pinball games will be housed in the complex.
“We have a blend of classics, and we have a great selection of fighters and even driving games, Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man,” Spohn said. “We try to represent all different generations of pinball machines.”
An additional attraction will be a tactical “Call of Duty” style outdoor laser tag course. Spohn said Pinballz could expand to house bowling and possibly an indoor laser tag component in the future.
Pinballz caters to the adult crowd by featuring three bars – an indoor, canopy bar and a beer garden. Spohn said there would be 20 different beers on tap with “a lot of local brewers.” As for the restaurant component, the kitchen will be centered on its $35,000 pizza oven. Spohn said the bar would feature a full menu.
Spohn & Associates was challenged with renovating Dorsett 221. Spohn said, “Everything except the four original walls is new.”
That includes replacing the air conditioning unit, retrofitting the plumbing and sewer system and installing a new sprinkler system. Moving the fragile 1980s era arcade cabinets was also an issue.
“It’s been a challenge to get through all of those issues,” Spohn said.
While he anticipates a chaotic scene on opening weekend, Spohn is ready.
“We think we’ll get the family demographic and we’ll get the adult crowds,” Spohn said. “We’ll have the college crowd, too and the south Austin crowd. They don’t want to cross the river and deal with [IH-35]. They can come down here and get a great environment, too.”