When you walk into the Ennis Fish Bowl, you’ll hear a noise that harkens back to some golden days in Ennis’ past – the happy sound of a bowling ball crashing through a set of pins.
After much anticipation and rumors, the Ennis Fish Bowl opened for the first time in nearly seven years last week. Along with it opened the Alley Bistro to keep hungry bowlers and locals fed with a simple selection of great food.
At the head of the operation are two men familiar in Ennis: John Heckler, who started Ennis Sugar High, and John Rolfe, who along with his wife Dahlia own Pit Stop Pizza and Grill. Heckler is in charge of the bowling and Rolfe is in charge of the food.
The doors opened last Wednesday and business has been steady since, Heckler said.
“I don’t think we could have handled much more,” he said. “It was a good soft opening.”
The idea for the Fish Bowl and Alley Bistro started first as an idea of providing local families with a wholesome place to go and expanded to include what both Heckler and Rolfe hope becomes a community and teen center.
Ultimately, bowling is the central activity at the Fish Bowl, but it’s not the only fun to be had. Along with refurbishing the lanes and the equipment, Heckler also installed three pool tables that can be rented by the half hour and a room full of modern video games that came be played for a nominal fee.
The idea was to build a safe place for local kids, that was also incredibly fun, Heckler said.
Heckler had heard throughout the community about the disappointment people felt when the bowling alley closed a few years ago. He also knew that with the teen center closing, local kids desperately needed a place to hang out.
He and his wife Shannon mulled over the idea of buying the property last winter and when a rumor started that another buyer was looking to turn the old bowling alley into a bar and casino, he made the decision to move forward and take a leap of faith.
“I just couldn’t see this becoming a casino and bar,” Heckler said.
So in February he talked to Rolfe and the two began formulating plans. But there was a lot of work to do, including renovating the equipment and a remodel of the restaurant and bowling alley.
“I’m an optimist,” Heckler said. “I walked in here and saw all the good things this could be.”
Rolfe knew it was going to be a lot of work taking over the restaurant duties, but he had experience in running two eateries in Ennis, he and his wife owned the Reel Decoy Restaurant before combining it with Pit Stop Pizza and Grill.
Like Heckler, he is excited to have a fun place for Ennis families to go. It’s something he and his family have missed since they moved here in 2005.
The idea behind the menu at the Alley Bistro is fun and comfort. Many of the menu items are things Rolfe grew up eating as a kid, including pot roast and a tuna melt. But there are also really simple items like nachos, hotdogs and burgers. The Alley Bistro will also serve beer and wine, once their license comes through.
The Fish Bowl was started by Shirley Storey and her late husband Bob, back in 1963. Their philosophy then was similar to Heckler’s – provide the community with a safe and fun place for families to come.
“We wanted a place for the young people,” Shirley Storey said Tuesday.
She and Bob had a young family of their own when they built the bowling alley and she wanted to have a place where her children’s friends could come after school and on the weekends.
Initially Bob wanted to put a bar in the bowling alley, but she gently put her foot down and suggested he might have to find someone else to help run the place.
“I told him I will not be the best help you’ve ever had, but I’ll be the cheapest,” Storey said with a laugh.
The Storey’s often worked seven days a week at the Fish Bowl and expanded the bowling to include nightly leagues and tournaments.
“That was our social life, it was seven days a week, we were never not open,” she said.
Shirley would make sure young kids learned proper bowling etiquette and kept tabs on kids as best she could.
She remembers several occasions when she called parents as the bowling alley was closing and told them she was bringing their kids home.
Once in a while she had trouble, but kids knew the score – if they screwed up and got kicked out, they would have to see Shirley to get permission to come back.
“The kids were respectful and good and they knew if they got in trouble they were never allowed in until they talked to me,” she said.
A few weeks ago, the Fish Bowl held a private party for the contractors who helped get the bowling alley open. Shirley bowled the first ball and celebrated with everyone on the crashing of newly polished pins.
“It’s a beautiful facility,” she said. “My gosh, they’ve done a great job.”