WHEATLAND – Kevin Jenkins (51) and his sons, Mike (27) and Emilio (11) have always dreamed about bowling a perfect game on the lanes. In a perfect life that may be possible.
In the Jenkins’ life, the dream of owning their own business may be the perfect fit for the family.
Jenkins who is a Wheatland native and graduated from WHS in 1988 went on to South Dakota State University after high school on a football scholarship. He was pursuing a degree in elementary education. A blown-out knee ended his career in football, but as a door closed, other windows opened. He has since gone on to Eastern Wyoming College where he graduated in 2000 with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, which Jenkins said is similar to a management degree and helped to prepare him to become a business owner.
Last week Jenkins and former Wheatland bowling establishment owner Kent Smith came to a financial agreement after months of negotiations and Smitty’s Lanes will soon be rebranded as “Big Dog’s Lanes.”
Jenkins was previously working at Black Hills Energy as a service tech when the new opportunity came along.
“I’ve always wanted my own business,” Jenkins said. “A friend of mine owned this (Smith) and he offered to sell it to me. So, after six months we finally got the deal done and here we are.”
The alley which has been closed for most of the summer will experience a rebirth of sorts Aug. 17 as Jenkins rolls out his soft opening with the grand opening scheduled for Aug. 28. The grand opening will be a major event according to Jenkins who said that there will be door prizes and some fun activities planned for that evening.
Previous owner Kent Smith said, “I'm really not sure when the bowling alley opened, i know it was the early ‘60s. I’m not sure who exactly started it but Jimmy and Paula Wilson owned it (called Wheatlanes) for the longest until Jimmy's death in 2013, Paula then sold it to us in 2016 and we changed the names to Smitty's Lanes to give it a fresh start having redo the whole center. My wife (Renny) and I enjoyed owning Smitty's Lanes, but my health started to decline running two businesses.”
In addition to having owned the bowling alley, October will mark Smith’s 30th year of owning KYCN and KZEinW radio stations.
“Owning a bowling alley takes a lot of time especially with the machines and learning and repairing them,” Smith said. “We made a lot of new friends from the experience and can't thank the town enough for its support.”
Although Smith made many renovations in his tenure as owner, Jenkins said that he has a few in mind of his own but not right away.
“I do have plans for the future if things work out like I think will,” he said. “I am going to extend the bar and make the kitchen bigger. We are also going to bring in more arcades and games for the kids.”
According to Jenkins they will feature concession stand kinds of food including burgers and fries, fried food and pizzas. The kitchen will have a cook who is hoping to make “Big Dog’s” a place to go for good food to go with everything else the alley has to offer.
Deanne Holzer who is the new cook at Big Dog’s says that she has been cooking all of her life.
“Pizza is going to be our specialty,” Holzer said. “This actually came at a really good time for me because the dentist that I work for in Gillette is retiring. I ran a Subway for three years, so I do have commercial food experience.”
Jenkins says that at first the menu is going to stay simple until they become really good at what they are serving.
As to his personnel, he is leaning toward sharing the load with his sons.
“Michael is pretty much going to be my lay mechanic, and Emilio is just going to be a grunt cleaning and helping out in getting done what needs to be done. He’ll also probably run some lanes a little bit.”
Mike grew up in Wheatland and graduated from WHS in 2013 before heading to the oil field for a short stint. He is also no stranger to the local bowling alley as he worked for two previous owners. Although he is now working full time as a butcher for H’s Custom Cuts, he plans on doing part-time work at the bowling alley also.
When the elder Jenkins initially told his sons about the business acquisition, each had their own reaction. Not just as bowlers, although Mike sports a hefty 205 average and Emilio has an 86 average.
“We talked about it quite a bit,” Mike said. “He wanted to make sure I was on board with it and although it was long process, and when it finally happened it was like a slap of reality across the face. I am most likely going to be doing maintenance on the lanes and make sure everything stays running. I have worked here when the old owner had it and also the owner before him. I feel that I have a lot knowledge on the stuff in the back.”
Emilio who grinned ear to ear had a hard time hiding his excitement about the business.
“I was excited,” he said. “I had one friend already who asked if we were going go get free bowling. I said, ‘no, probably not.’ I plan on doing some cleaning around here and janitor stuff and then learn the ropes to run the bowling alley.
Starting a business after 50 is never easy, but Jenkins is optimistic.
“I think it’s going to work out really well,” he said. “From the buzz around town, people are really excited that we’re going to be open. This is my livelihood now. We’re going to have at least three leagues and I am hoping for four.
At this point the hours are yet to be determined, but starting in October, Jenkins said that they are going to go Tuesday – Saturday 4 p.m. – midnight and then half a day Sunday, 2 – 6 p.m. During the summer, most likely the open days will be Wednesday – Sunday.