Comedy – and entertainment retail – is no laughing matter
See full Fort Worth Report article by Bob Francis here.
Did you hear the one about the comedy club opening in Fort Worth? It’s no laughing matter. In fact, it’s part of the growing business of entertainment concepts.
Certainly comedy is serious business to Big Laugh CEO Brandon Lewin. Though he started his career on stage doing standup, Lewin quickly transitioned into putting on shows.
“I just enjoyed that part of it and I liked helping comedians grow their careers,” he said. “I got more enjoyment out of that than being on stage.”
He also, as he is quick to point out, paid the performers.
“A lot of times comedians can be the last person to get paid at an event. It’s crazy,” he said. “I set up one comedy event and I couldn’t pay very much, but there was one comedian, pretty well known, she came back and said it was the first check she’d ever received for her comedy.”
Lewin’s decision to enter the business side of comedy may have lacked one thing he hopes his comedians have: timing.
Big Laugh booked its first major event on March 7, 2020 — days before the world essentially shut down during the pandemic. Comedian and actor Bill Burr, who has appeared in the shows “Breaking Bad” and “The Mandalorian,” was the headliner.
“We drew 106 people, but we had a great time. So, the timing, well, was not so good, but a great experience,” he said. “It gave me a taste of what I wanted to do.”
But, like any good comedian, Lewin didn’t let a lack of respect from the comedy gods stop him. He began producing shows online and making connections during the downtime.
“I was able to help some comedians by doing some streaming shows during the downtime,” he said.
Eventually, when the world opened back up, Lewin got the last laugh. He began producing shows at the Vulcan Gas Company, an event center in Austin. And, more importantly, the shows garnered good reviews.
Now, Lewin is setting up his own Big Laugh Club in Fort Worth, at 604 Main St., suite 100 in the bottom floors of the Kress Building. He expects to open in October.
“I’m really excited, it’s a great space,” he said.
The bottom floor will be a small club seating about 100, while the second floor will seat about 300. The location had been a restaurant before, so there is a kitchen to serve food.
“Fort Worth is a great market for us, and I think it’s underserved and not well understood,” he said. “I think it is its own separate animal from Austin and Dallas, but I think we can make it a really cool place.”
Lewin is hardly the only one who sees a good market for consumer spending on entertainment and food in Texas.
According to Rob Franks, managing director of corporate retail real estate at JLL, Texas shares the top spot with California for the largest number of movie theaters and competes with New York and Florida for the most restaurants.
“Quite simply, as Texans, we work then we drink and entertain our way through the rest of the week,” he said.
Coming out of the pandemic, there has been a lot of pent up demand for entertainment.
“Folks are ready to get back out,” he said.
Like Lewin, creative people who were stuck inside during the pandemic came up with ideas to act on once it ended.
“Now we're seeing the effects of that,” he said.
Lewin expects some of the space these entertainment venues will fill are likely to be empty spaces left by retailers like Bed, Bath and Beyond.
“A lot of those will be filled by other retailers, but we think entertainment will take some of those,” he said.
Kiama Coleman, JLL senior researcher, said the “eatertainment” trend is on the rise.
“We’re seeing several concepts from barcades and esports to what we call competitive socializing and virtual reality venues where they combine games or sports with food and drink options,” she said.
The investment community has also taken notice with real estate investment trusts like EPR Properties announcing plans to invest $320 million this year in entertainment concepts with plans for an additional $250 million on the horizon.
JLL’s Franks noted that Texas added 26 new entertainment concepts so far this year, taking the state’s venue count to nearly 700.
Some of those locations are traditional, but others are new concepts to the state, such as Meow Wolf, an immersive art experience chain, that opened a location in Grapevine.
Cosm, an experiential media and immersive technology company, has announced plans to build its second public entertainment venue at Grandscape in The Colony. Cosm has area roots, having been founded in 2020 by Dallas-based Mirasol Capital, through a series of acquisitions of businesses in spatial computing, specialty design, engineering and immersive video production.
Experiential venues are attractive to developers, Franks said.
“They want these types of venues because they bring customers who they hope will continue spending once they are at a mall or development, which is obviously what retailers need,” Franks said. “I think we’ll see more of these particularly as Texas continues to grow.”
Winners announced in H-E-B’s Quest for Texas Best competition
H-E-B is known as a grocery store with surprises, and they maintained that reputation during its 10th anniversary judging of its Quest for Texas Best competition. On Aug. 9 the grocer presented each of the 10 finalists with a $10,000 check, over and above the $85,000 for the winners. The winning products will be considered for placement on shelves in H-E-B stores.
The winners were:
- Grand prize winner ($25,000 and one year of free groceries): Anh and Joseph Trousdale – PhoLicious – Authentic Vietnamese Rice Noodle Soup (Houston)
- First place winner ($20,000): Billy Trainor, Lynne Tolentino, David Philo, Kyle Wiebe – Verdegreens – Farmstand Salad Dressing (Houston)
- Second place winner ($15,000) – tie: Tameia Frank-Jones and Byron Jones – Sweets With L&L – Cotton Candy (Spring)
- Second place winner ($15,000) – tie: Saulo Arriaga and Adan Arriaga – A’HUA! Sparkling Agua Fresca – Carbonated Soft Drink (Jasper)
- Third place winner ($10,000): Mike and Linda McDowell, Ryan and Katie McDowell – Armagh Creamery – Armagh Creamery Organic Yogurt (Dublin)
“Once again, we have seen and tasted the best Texans have to offer, and we look forward to adding more Texas-made products to our shelves,” said James Harris, senior director of diversity and inclusion and supplier diversity. “Today, everyone walked away a winner, and we can’t wait to share with our customers the creative products from these amazing small businesses.”
Do you have something for the Bob on Business column? Email Bob Francis as firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com.