ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — One of the first tools developed by early humans was a means to cut wood and hunt prey. Many Celtic tribes reportedly had axe-throwing competitions, but even through the founding of America axes continued to have a practical purpose.
Lately, however, a new trend has been popping up in bigger cities across the country: axe-throwing bars. "There's something just primal about it," smiled Glen Merchant, co-owner of Axeville Throwing Club. "That thud appeals to everyone!"
Axeville Throwing Club is the latest new thing on the WNC scene.
Merchant and his girlfriend Amy bought the old Excapades building on Leicester Highway, along with Ryan McClenny and his wife.
"It's kind of that whole, 'Why not?'" shrugged McClenny.
The vision began with Merchant looking into franchise opportunities on his own before realizing he could save money by opening a stand-alone business.
He took McClenny to Charlotte for an evening at Lumberjaxe, one of the first axe-throwing venues in the Southeast. Before Merchant could even get into his pitch, McClenny was on board.
"I've ran some pretty big companies, I've been involved in operations at lots of big places, I've had 40-50 employees, and several assistants," explained McClenny. "I've done all that stuff, but this is something that's making everything tingle."
So let's go ahead and address the obvious question you have. Yes, there will be beer and axes in the same room. No, the owners did not somehow overlook that obvious concern.
"As if the thought hadn't occurred to us from the very beginning," groaned Merchant, rolling his eyes. "There's not a lot activities in Asheville where you go do anything and it's, 'Let's go do it and have twenty-five beers,'" scoffed McClenny.
Both explained that not only is Axeville not intended to be a place where people spend hours up hours, but they are avoiding the burgeoning craft beer trend that has swallowed Asheville whole. Beers available will be low ABV and there will be multiple sets of employees keeping an eye on patrons and their consumption.
"If we see someone getting a little stagger, or they sound like they're slurring, or if there's any indication that they're not right we will step in and say, 'Hey, you know, we're going to have to call this for today,'" Merchant laid out. "We'll give them a free come-back."
If you had concerns about an establishment like this, you probably aren't surprised the city had its own list of questions and concerns. The ATC management team had planned to open in June of 2018, but re-zoning issues and paperwork needed by the city kept pushing the date further and further.
"Part of it was the matter of we're going to be throwing hatchets inside a building," laughed McClenny. "It made them kind of go, 'all right, um -- we're going to do what now?' They don't know what questions to ask. It doesn't fit in any box, so how do we do that? We just had to be patient."
Plan B was August; that turned into September, then Halloween, then before the new year. Now the doors are expected to open to the public in mid-March.
The wait actually allowed the ownership group to go through some growing pains outside of the public eye.
McClenny pointed out that the current target system is around the ninth version they've tried. The decor was tinkered with, avoiding the stereotypical mountain lodge theme found in most axe-throwing clubs. Rather, there is a sleek design with a sitting area around a faux-fireplace with lots of tongue-in-cheek nods towards the expectations people probably have, including forest-print wallpaper.
When visitors arrive they will not simply be handed an axe, a beer, and be sent on their merry way. Each group will be assigned an "ax-pert" who will show them proper form and safety steps. "It's just a very simple straight forward motion, no crazy strength, no crazy flipping, twisting anything else," demonstrated Merchant.
Throwers will toss one axe and retrieve it before the next person takes a turn.
The Asheville area is conducive to new business growth, and the ATC team has felt the support of others in the community. "It's so much fun that Asheville can be this organic type of growth for a new business with a new idea, whatever it is you know, anything," touted McClenny.
"We're super excited about being able to kind of take some of this and somebody comes and says, 'Hey, I'm going to start a blah-blah-blah,' we'll love to just jump in and say 'Hey, here's what we did. That's how this city has done it for us."