December 11, 2011
“We provide a ton of fun for people,” said State Senator Justin Alfond looking around at the inside of Bayside Bowl. In front of him were 12 bowling lanes, off to the side a stage, behind him a customized bar with sun streaming in from a skylight, and 4,850 square feet of restaurant space which can serve 50 people comfortably.

People of all ages were bowling, some were enjoying a drink at the bar, others were just listening to the music and having a meal. That “ton of fun” visibly manifests in a number of ways besides bowling, which has made Bayside Bowl a center where the community comes to unwind and enjoy music, food, bowling in a relaxed yet energized atmosphere.

Owners Justin Alfond and Charlie Mitchell have brought together the quintessential fun elements that speak to the Portland community—and beyond—to create Bayside Bowl, at 58 Alder Street.

“People come in to just be social with friends at the bar, celebrate a birthday party, listen to the band, have a meal, watch a game on the screen—or bowl. It is nice to be a part of something that helps people have fun and relax,” said Alfond. “The community reaction has been awesome. We wanted people to feel comfortable here, so they feel at home the moment they come through the door.”

At Bayside Portland’s art scene hangs out with auto-body specialists, city workers, and families—everyone comes together here. It’s the Peninsula’s community melting pot.

Part of the welcoming mat is generated by ongoing music. Both owners lived in New Orleans and discussed how they would like to replicate here in Portland the atmosphere they found there.

“Rock and Roll Bowl in New Orleans was an inspiration to us. On almost every day of the year, they have live music while you bowl there. For me it creates a great synergy of people dancing to the music and bowling their hearts out,” said Alfond.

Bayside has live music two to three nights. On the other nights a DJ or an iPod is playing.

Part of the New Orleans both owners experienced included great food.

“Bowling alleys are notorious for bad food; we knew that we wanted to change that. Portland is a food town, so when you come to Bayside come with your appetite,” said Alfond. “We have great options for the whole spectrum of pallets here.”

Bayside’s menu goes from the Rachel sandwich—sauerkraut with vegan dressing on your choice of bread—to homemade burgers, thin grilled pizzas, mini chicken chimichangas, veggie stir fry, Maine seafood, a wide range of sandwiches, roasted lemon chicken, coconut curry chicken, grilled wings, and a variety of children’s dishes, and desserts. There really is something there for everyone.

“It’s hard to take your family out on the town for $10 a person. Charlie and I wanted to make sure what we offered was affordable for families and individuals,” said Alfond.

The owners go out of their way to buy the freshest locally raised and harvested foods. “We have a saying, Buy Local—Bowl Local,” said Alfond.

Since they opened, other businesses like the community counseling center and a theater company have moved into the area.

“We are excited to be a part of the momentum of community revitalization of Bayside. Charlie and I share a long-term commitment to the area. We are here to stay,” said Alfond. “Portland has a rich history of supporting bowling. At one time there were four bowling alleys in Portland. We are the first to return to the Peninsula. It’s exciting to follow in their footsteps.”

Being close to the highway allows easy access for people in the Greater Portland area, and many customers bike or walk there.

“Lots of families come here for birthday parties. It’s cool seeing kids getting involved. That makes me stand back and say, wow we really did something for everyone to enjoy. Companies hold parties and events here. They team build as they bowl, and their workers get to unwind and get to know each other,” said Alfond. “Bowling is a sport that everyone can play. That surprised smile of elation, when a bowler makes a strike, is priceless. I’ve seen it happen to people who never expect it, giving them so much joy. It’s great to watch it happen to kids.”

Alfond’s family made their fortune with starting Dexter Shoes Company. In the entryway of Bayside Bowl, there are old posters from the shoe company, which had a line of bowling shoes his father designed. Bowling was a fun sport the young Alfond remembers playing with his family.

“I remember going to bowling alleys all over Maine and the country. We always had great fun bowling,” said Alfond. “Then bowling alleys seemed to lose their steam and disappeared for a while.”

Bayside Bowl’s success is an example of how bowling and leagues have become a part of urban areas reviving themselves. Mitchell was at the forefront of bringing bowling back to the Portland area. He was the driving force organizing the Bowl Portland League. Alfond joined the league in the second season because of Mitchell—and never looked back. The Bowl Portland League is just one of many that play tournaments at Bayside. Over 300 bowlers are in the Portland area league, where bowling has made a big comeback.

“Last season Bowl Portland had 36 teams playing. Five nights a week we have leagues here. Sometimes we have to stack double sessions because the interest is so great. We are attracting adult leagues, like Port Sports and Casco Bay Sports—their leagues bowl almost all year round,” said Alfond.

The owners wanted a lived-in look at Bayside. You can feel the welcoming warmth and friendliness and at the same time being hip. There is even handicapped accessible equipment available for bowlers.

“We were determined to create a bowling alley that felt it had been here for a long time. This building’s setup worked really well,” said Alfond.

The warehouse offered itself up as a multipurpose space. The architects used the building’s attributes, utilizing the skylights, brick, wood floors, and openness. The bar is made from the polished planks of former bowling alleys. Energy-efficient lighting is the norm, and recommendations from Efficiency Maine were used to as to how to heat and insulate the building by being environmentally friendly. Last summer they opened up a patio outside, so patrons could enjoy fun and games and a meal in the sun.

It’s definitely not your bowling ally from the 60s. But the equipment, classic pen sitters, are from the 60s and for a good reason. They are durable, reliable, and functional. The machinery and lanes are vintage tenpin bowling or “big ball,” which generates a good deal of nostalgia and tends to give bowlers a better experience. When the pins go down and are rotated the sound resonates throughout the building.

Mitchell and Alfond also built their business with a social bent.

“We are part of the Portland community, and that brings a responsibility of giving back. Every Monday we welcome nonprofits to use the facility any way they like. They can use the upstairs to do programming or bowl. Five percent of the total income for the day is given as a donation to the charity,” said Alfond.

Every six months, the nonprofit that brought in the most income on a five-percent day receives a $250 check from Bayside Bowl. The runner-up nonprofit receives a $100 check.

The owners’ share a business vision where people have health care, are paid living wages, and have equality.

“We believe in our employees. Our staff is treated with respect and are part of why Bayside Bowl is special. Both part-time and full-time employees are offered health care. Many of our workers have health care for the first time in their lives. We don’t have a lot of turn over. Every time an opening happens, we get flooded with applicants. And of course it’s fun working here,” said Alfond. “The loyalty factor—you can’t pay for that or create it. As a business owner, you have to walk the walk.”

There are over 30 people on the payroll.

Alfond is the assistant Democratic leader in the Maine Senate, and he is the lead Democrat on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. This year he was also part of the special regulatory reform committee.

“A major accomplishment on that committee was to begin changing the system of permitting. We all had a goal to make it easier for businesses to open their place of business on time without having to duplicate the work for permitting. My experience here helped my fellow lawmakers in Augusta understand what a small business goes through,” said Alfond.

The owners are grateful for all the support from the community and city to get their business up and running.

“The city was and is very supportive. We worked with the economic development director, and he became a great advocate inside of City Hall,” said Alfond. “Often you’ll see city employees unwinding and bowling after work. Bayside Bowl filled a great social gap in Portland. It’s time to bowl!”