Jonah Sandler left the safety of a lucrative investment banking position in Chicago and risked most of his personal savings in 2012 to open the mega-entertainment complex Scene75 in Dayton.
Five years later, it looks as his gamble paid off. The Cincinnati-area native will open his third entertainment location 30 miles south of Cleveland in Brunswick next month and celebrate the Dayton location’s fifth anniversary.
Sandler is using a similar concept with the Cleveland-area location that he used in opening the 120,000-square-foot Dayton and 84,000-square-foot Cincinnati-are venues by converting empty warehouse or large retail space.
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The Brunswick Scene75 Entertainment Center is an 80,000-square foot location that formerly was a Buehler’s grocery store near Interstate 71. It will have laser tag, indoor go-karts, virtual reality, blacklight mini-golf, bouncing inflatables, arcade, mini-bowling, bumper cars, 4-D motion theater and more.
The Dayton location on Poe Avenue was a former furniture warehouse. It now has the longest indoor electric go-kart track and largest inflatable arena, the first gaming theater in the country, the largest multi-level laser tag arena in the tri-state and the only spin zone bumper car attraction in Ohio.
It also includes a video arcade, a 150-seat restaurant, two full service bars, a snack bar, black light mini-golf, mini-bowling, 4D theaters, a Lazer Frenzymaze, eight private party rooms, three outdoor sand volleyball courts, two outdoor bocce courts and a large outdoor patio.
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“Our brand has become widely recognizable, not only within the Dayton area but also within the entertainment industry at large,” Sandler said.
The new location will have a new eating concept that Sandler said he believes is the first in the nation. Instead of a restaurant, the venue will have an indoor food truck alley.
Four popular food truck operators from the Cleveland area will sell their food options inside the new Scene75. The trucks have been cut in half and are part of the display in the restaurant area.
“We’re looking forward to the new opening. We are excited to be a part of the community. Our concept of being a modern-day community center is still part of our plan. There is no entry fee at any of our venues. We want people to come enjoy themselves and not worry about how much money they have to spend,” Sandler said.
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Sandler does not share revenue numbers for the family-owned business, but said no matter what the economy is doing, he has found people still want to socialize and are willing to spend their money in the process.
In the next two months, the Scene 75 in Cincinnati will be expanded to add a 12-lane bowling boutique. If the concept works well, Sandler said he hopes to bring the same thing to the Dayton location.
Future plans at the Dayton location include new amusement ride concepts.
“We’re considering a drop tower and other ideas,” Sandler said. “It’s a ways down the road, but definitely something we are pursuing.”
Scene75 now has more than 400 employees at the three locations owned mostly by Sandler and his father, Les. At age 34, Sandler is a young entrepreneur but said he doesn’t mind the pressure of having a large amount of employees at three locations.
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“We have a great team. The hardest thing for me has been getting everyone on the team to see through the same lens. We want to create a consistent and positive guest experience for every customer,” Sandler said.
In November 2016, Scene75 won Best Family Entertainment Center in North America. The Dayton and Cincinnati locations were two of the three national finalists.
Scene75 has seen success through the company’s presence on social media, a necessity Sandler quickly found out was needed. Just three months before Scene75 opened on Poe Avenue, Sandler said the fledgling company was in trouble.
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Sandler sat down with his business partners to explain his predicament: there was no money left to market the new venue. Numerous city-imposed plan revisions, all in the late stages of construction, had consumed the entire project’s budget.
Sandler’s plan? Facebook ad campaigns.
In the three months leading up to its July 2012 opening, Sandler grew Scene75’s Facebook base to 23,000 local and engaged fans. He’s now written a book, “Before the Doors Opened” to help fellow entrepreneurs. The book details the creation of the entertainment center and how Facebook marketing helped Scene75 grow.
Facebook has invited Sandler to speak at its annual global sales meeting, and he represents one of 12 small businesses on Facebook’s Small and Medium Business Council, which consults the social media company on the development of its marketing tools.
The company has also partnered with Wright State University and created a professional business institute. Last week, more than 20 high school students from around Ohio participated in the week-long “business camp” to look at challenges facing Scene 75.
Professors, WSU students and Scene 75 employees helped coach the students in the learning process.
“We’re an entertainment company, but we want to play a part in the community, adding to its success,” Sandler said.
Scene 75 will celebrate its five-year anniversary in Dayton, beginning on July 5, with giveaways and special events. The celebration will last through July 9.