CHALET BOWL: THE LITTLE BOWLING HOUSE THAT COULD

(Editor’s Note: This story appeared in the September issue of BCM. We are posting it here because on Monday, the co-owner of Chalet Bowl, Nancy Frederick, passed away unexpectedly.)

By Bob Johnson

Probably the best word to describe Chalet Bowl is “anomaly.” In an era when small, neighborhood centers have been disappearing from the bowling landscape, this 12-lane center in Tacoma’s historic Proctor neighborhood not only is surviving; it’s thriving.

Chalet Bowl is the oldest bowling center in Washington, and sits along a tree-lined street, flanked by an investment firm and a fitness clothing store. The district has served as the heart of Tacoma’s North End for more than 100 years, and for 75 of those years Chalet Bowl has provided residents and visitors with a place to recreate.

Nancy and Reggie Frederick were regular attendees at Bowl Expo, as Reggie has served on key BPAA committees through the years. This picture was taken at this year’s Expo in June.

The center celebrated its 75th birthday last October with free bowling, free food and the unveiling of its new BES X scoring system. Two hundred 75th-anniversary bowling pins were decorated and sold for $19.41 apiece, and that same price was charged for 75th-anniversary shirts. The son of the center’s original owner was on hand, as was the owner from whom Reggie and Nancy Frederick bought the center in 1984. The Deputy Mayor, two former Mayors and members of the City Counci also put in appearances; after all, politicians are drawn to crowds, and Chalet Bowl was packed with people for the occasion.

The Fredericks have owned the center longer than any previous proprietors, but Reggie’s love affair with bowling dates much further back in time, to when he watched a black-and-white bowling program on television.

“I got hooked on ‘Championship Bowling’ back in the late 1950s,” he recalls. “I would get a ruler and a pencil, and make scoresheets while they were bowling. Then I’d take my set of plastic pins and balls out to the garage and try to bowl like the guys on TV.”

It would take five years of begging, but the owner of Tacoma’s New Frontier Lanes finally relented and gave Reggie a job at age 14. “He told me my job was to keep the place clean and smile. I worked there through high school.”

Other jobs at other centers, including Chalet Bowl and his university’s student union, took him through college. “By the time I was 23, I knew what I wanted to do,” he says. His life would be in bowling.

He was able to purchase Chalet Bowl thanks to a loan from his parents. He says the first 15 years were a struggle, as he and Nancy didn’t draw paychecks and used credit cards to get through the slow summer months. “But the last 15 years have been very good,” he says.

“I can honestly say there has never been a day when I wished I wasn’t going

Alyson and Billy Frederick are the majority owners of the center today, maintaining the high standards set by Billy’s parents while “tweaking” the bowling and cafe offerings.

to work,” he adds. “My biggest kick is seeing people enjoy themselves at our center. If they have fun, our mission is accomplished. I just love the people and love the business.”

He also loves his wife, Nancy, whom he met on a blind date at Chalet Bowl.

“We’re polar opposites,” Nancy says, and then Reggie finishes her thought. “I’m the one who’s the Chatty Cathy,” he says.

In the early years, Chalet Bowl survived in part because Reggie’s parents would work shifts for free “mainly to have something to do.” Other shifts were filled by local kids who gained great work experience, if not huge paychecks. “I can think of at least 10 of them who turned out really well,” says Reggie, “and they point to the lessons we taught them here as part of the reason.”

When the time came for the Fredericks’ son, Billy, to attend college, he selected New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M. There, he played on the rugby team. Members of the squad used to hang out with the women’s soccer team, and that’s how me met his future wife, Alyson, who had received a full-ride soccer scholarship.

“We’ve been together since 1998,” Billy says. “At some point, you just kind of know. When she graduated, we decided to move together to San Diego. I proposed to her there in 2002.”

Billy was a wild land fire fighter, and part of the team that fought a huge fire in 2003 that burned 200,000 acres and almost made it to the ocean. Alyson’s job was not quite as exciting but certainly stable; she worked in accounting for Hyatt Hotels.

But the cost of living is high in Southern California, and Billy and Alyson started to think about making a change. So, in 2005, they approached Nancy with the idea of moving north and possibly joining the family business. “We thought of it as an opportunity to work together and for ourselves,” Alyson says.

Nancy was surprised. “Growing up, Billy and his brother had done odd jobs around the center, but never showed any real interest in it. Billy and Alyson were kind of feeling me out to see how Reggie might react. I told them they should ask him.”

So, they did. And when they did, Reggie was simultaneously shocked and delighted.

“They had to pick me up off the floor,” Reggie says. “The timing couldn’t have been better because I was starting to work on our exit strategy. We told them yes — it would be great.”

The initial plan called for Billy to come to work at the bowl, while Alyson transferred with Hyatt to its Seattle office. Billy was 26.

“I thought to myself, ‘What can I teach him?’” Reggie says. “I could give him all kinds of theories and we could talk, but I knew he was going to have his own experiences and would learn from those. That’s the best way to learn about the bowling business, I think. So things would happen, he’d handle them his way, and then we’d talk. He ended up liking it, and began running the center in 2012.”

When Alyson was able to join him, it eliminated her long daily commute and gave the couple — who celebrated their 14th anniversary in August — more quality time together.

Today, Billy and Alyson are the majority owners of the bowling center, while Reggie and Nancy retain ownership of the land and building.

“During the winter season when we’re slammed and exhausted, we’ve learned to leave work at work,” Alyson says. “At dinner, we leave the alley out of it. I also make sure we take off one day a week together, usually on Monday.”

Just as their parents had helped them, Reggie and Nancy help “the kids” by working a few shifts. Nancy even takes a shift in the snack bar, the part of the business she was responsible for building. That’s now Alyson’s domain, and she says she’s amazed at how much Nancy was able to accomplish in such a limited kitchen space.

The 26th Street Café, as the snack bar is known, has a menu that includes not just a hamburger, but a BBQ bacon jalapeno cheeseburger… not just a hot dog, but a bacon avocado dog with mayo and tomato… and not just a BLT sandwich, but a burger dip — a beef patty, Swiss cheese and au jus.

There’s also an appetizer list labeled “Shareables,” headlined by a big plate of vein-clogging deliciousness called “Loaded Tots.” It consists of a full pound of browned-to-perfection tater tots smothered in chili, a cheese blend, bacon, tomatoes, onions and ranch dressing. Forks are provided, and multiple napkins are suggested.

It was Nancy Frederick who developed the menu at Chalet Bowl’s cafe and gave it a great deal of diversity in the face of limited storage and preparation space.

“Mom doesn’t get the credit she deserves for building up that part of the business,” Billy says.

Alyson agrees: “She is amazing. She did so much work to get that restaurant going, and she created the initial menu. I’ve just kind of tweaked some things, and we try to add something new each season so the league bowlers don’t get bored.”

While the center is located in a busy business district, parking is not a problem. Senior league bowlers arrive before the district gets busy, and evening league bowlers get there soon after most of the businesses have closed. Rarely does a customer have to walk more than a block from their car to the entrance.

In recent years, the center’s league business has actually grown to a base of between 225 and 250 bowlers each fall. Alyson notes that when Billy introduced craft beers and rotating taps to Chalet Bowl, “it brought a whole different type of bowler into the house,” and even generated a league in conjunction with Parkway Tavern.

And thanks to a significant investment in keeping the center bright and modern-looking, the party business has exploded. “We average between 450 and 500 special events of various sizes each year,” Billy says. Nearby schools, two within easy walking distance, continue to schedule their end-of-year parties at the center.

All four members of the Frederick family have contributed to the ongoing success of Chalet Bowl.

“You have to give credit to Reggie for going out in the community, networking, and bringing people in as they were getting the business established after buying it back in ’84,” Alyson says. “Without him, I don’t think the place would exist. And Nancy has done an amazing job in establishing and maintaining the café. Now, Billy is adding some new ideas to the bowling side, and I’m working to keep things interesting in the café.”

Adds Billy: “I think our customers and employees know we really care about them. We’ve had some great ones over the years. This is a special place in the community, and Alyson and I hope to keep it that way for a long time.”

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