BRUNSWICK — Two residents have stepped in and added a unique twist to a historic venue, reopening a bowling alley that closed last year following almost 80 years in business.
Bolos, previously the Bowling Bowl on Dunlap Street, was reopened on Jan.1 by Joe O’Neil and Michael Jerome, co-owners of the neighboring Portland Pie on Maine Street.
The new owners said they not only wanted to reignite a storied local business, but also wanted to venture into an untapped market in the area by offering Tex-Mex cuisine.
Why take on another challenge when they already own a restaurant?
“We had one of our Portland Pie Christmas parties here when it was still the Bowling Bowl,” Jerome said. “… The owner indicated off the cuff that he might be interested in selling it, and a few months later we decided to do it.”
In April, O’Neil and Jerome officially started the process to purchase the establishment, which had to be temporarily shut down. They said creating a dining area where bowling lanes used to be was a challenge, but the renovations were complete after a six-month construction period.
The business now has four candlepin lanes, two fewer than the bowling alley that opened in 1941.
“We were psyched to finish the construction project and begin to manage the restaurant,” O’Neil said. “We’re much more proficient restaurant managers versus construction managers.
“There are also a lot of nerves involved when you begin down a road with a new concept with a lot of unknowns,” he said. “… Our adventurous spirit is being fed, and we’re excited to learn all about our business and meet all of our new customers.”
Customers like Scott Rizzo and his group of friends waited the night of Saturday, Jan. 5, for more than two hours to bowl, but they didn’t seem to mind.
“My friends and I drank and had some of the food, which was excellent, so the experience was well worth the wait,” said Rizzo, who is originally from Massachusetts, where candlepin bowling began.
According to the International Candlepin Bowling Association, the sport was developed in Worcester in 1880 by Justin White, who owned a local alley. The pastime remains most popular in New England.
The main differences between candlepin and traditional tenpin bowling are that each player uses three balls per frame rather than two. Candlepin balls are also much smaller, lighter, and do not have finger holes in them. The pins are much thinner, hence the name “candlepin.”
“I remember candlepin bowling back when I was a kid and it really isn’t as easy as I thought it was; it is quite challenging but fun at the same time,” Rizzo said.
O’Neil said an online reservation system will be in place in the coming weeks to make the process run more smoothly.
“We knew we would be busy, but we were pleasantly surprised with the amount of people that came out and the large groups we had,” he said.
Leagues will likely be formed in February, according to O’Neil.
According to O’Neil and Jerome, Bolos also prides itself in offering fresh food with an individually customizable menu. All proteins are sourced locally and the produce is sourced locally when it is in season. All salsas and hot sauces are made in house.
Some of Bolos’ menu items include Maine favorites with a southwestern twist, such as lobster poppers with jalapeno and cream cheese served with an avocado dressing.
Jerome, who received his culinary training from the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin, was the mastermind behind the idea of offering Tex-Mex food.
“I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to create the kind of food I experienced in Texas,” he said, “so it just kind of made sense to serve this type of food here.”
Jerome also thinks the business will be successful because Bolos is not just a restaurant.
“We are offering an experience,” he said, “not just somewhere you just sit and watch each other eat and drink.”
Scott Rizzo said the more than two hour wait to bowl on Bolos’ opening weekend was “well worth it.”Bolos has a menu that includes seafood favorites with a southwestern twist, like this plate of shrimp tacos with grapes and bacon.