A pair of entrepreneurs' ambitious plan to establish a restaurant chain featuring virtual golf has shanked and gone into the rough.
Golf Play Cafe Rochester LLC, which formerly did business as Links Bar & Grill, filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition last week. The Perinton restaurant closed in April, said Marc Hobler, founding partner of Golf Play.
The restaurant opened with Hobler and Massachusetts software executive David Gordon as principals at the beginning of 2012 in a 4,700-square-foot former Blockbuster Video outlet in Perinton Square Mall. It offered patrons a chance to play simulated rounds of golf at 50 courses, including icons such as Pebble Beach in California and St. Andrews in Scotland.
The Perinton eatery was planned as the first of three locally. Larger locations in Webster and Greece initially had been expected to open in October and November of last year.
Though the Greece and Webster locations never materialized, the operation came tantalizingly close to succeeding, Hobler said. In the end, he said, "We just ran out of time."
The Golf Play bankruptcy petition, filed July 10 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Rochester, lists liabilities of $1.1 million against $478,000 in assets.
Money that Hobler, Gordon and other investors sank into the venture accounts for approximately $1 million of the firm's liabilities, the bankruptcy filing shows.
The filing lists Links Bar & Grill's landlord, DiMarco Perinton Square LLC, as having staked a state-court claim as a secured creditor against the eatery's fixtures, which account for all $478,000 of its stated assets.
A specialist in product development, Hobler, a Brighton resident, hatched the notion of using high-tech golf simulators as restaurant entertainment after seeing the sophisticated virtual-reality devices used by golf instructors and coaches as teaching tools.
"There were a couple of things that struck me," he told the Rochester Business Journal last year. "One was how much fun everybody was having with it. But No. 2 was all the data being generated after every shot. It struck me at that moment how you could take the simulator technology and turn it into an entertainment concept."
What particularly struck Hobler about golf-simulation technology was the same thing that golf instructors see as its virtue-the capacity to finely analyze the dynamics of a golfer's swing. But just using the technology as a teaching tool failed to exploit its full potential.
"We saw that the mistakes being made were they were going after the core golfers-the guys that make the time to go play-rather than making it fun for everyone, including non-golfers," Hobler said.
The idea of combining virtual-reality golf play with a restaurant and bar, dubbed "eatertainment" by Hobler and Gordon, turned out to be better than they had thought it would be, Hobler said this week. Few people balked at the $40-an-hour cost for one to four players, he added, but more fine-tuning and tweaking was needed to make the restaurant work than they had time to do or money to finance.
The partners had projected that bar and restaurant operations would supply 80 percent of revenues, but simulated golf turned out to be a more popular attraction, accounting for 40 percent of revenues.
The problem was the seasonal nature of simulated golf's attraction. With the onset of warmer weather, duffers forsook simulation to hit actual links, leaving a void the bar and restaurant operations could not quite fill.
Given more time, they could have perfected the restaurant and bar operation, bringing in more patrons for food and drink with or without golf, Hobler said. Much of the problem, he now believes, was that they did not fully appreciate the importance of getting the venture's name out.
"Marketing, marketing, marketing," he lamented. "When you see how the big chains do it, you begin to understand what's needed-coupons, discounts, combos."
Their idea would have worked if they had been able to keep the restaurant going longer, Hobler said. But the money was not available to do that. He and Gordon used their own money and courted friend-and-family-level investors to open the Perinton Links Bar & Grill, Hobler said. They tried but were not able to line up a next round of financing.
The partners envisioned the three planned Rochester-area locations as the nucleus of a multistate chain, part of whose attraction would be the ability for customers to challenge players throughout the chain in tournament play. If they could successfully parlay the Perinton golf-simulation eatery into two more local restaurants, investors would come around, the partners reasoned.
Though Hobler has not lost faith in the feasibility of golf eatertainment, he said, he is not sure whether he would want to take another swing at making it work.
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