Hatchet House of Bemidji offers 'ax-citing' activities for all
The smell of grilled hot dogs and fresh sweetcorn filled the venue’s parking lot as community members gathered for the long-awaited grand opening event on Sunday, Sept. 11.
BEMIDJI — Melissa Olson’s desire to open the Hatchet House started a little over two years ago when she was hunting for a place to celebrate her twin sons’ 9th birthday party after recently moving to Bemidji.
After searching for venues in the area and being left with few options for both adults and children to enjoy themselves in a fun atmosphere, Olson was motivated to start her own business to boost Bemidji’s family festivities.
As she was researching all the indoor recreational activities from trampoline parks to bouncy houses, she knew the ax throwing business was right for her after speaking to the owner of Northern Air Family Fun Center in Grand Forks.
“During the (coronavirus pandemic), I called Northern Air to ask about the business, he had told me how difficult business had been through the pandemic with his trampoline park and a number of other businesses in that same realm were saying the same thing,” Olson said. “I knew if I was going to bring a new business to Bemidji, it would have to be something that would sustain through another potential pandemic.”
In their discussion, he also told Olson about the newly added ax throwing section of his park. Even though the COVID restrictions limited access on the trampolines, he said ax throwing was the attraction that got him through it.
“The way an ax throwing venue is laid out, even at half capacity the numbers still made sense,” Olson said, “and it fit to bring an ax throwing venue to lumberjack country.”
She got to work and started building prototypes in her backyard to see if the sport would pass the ultimate test -- entertaining her sons.
“They loved it, it was really fun having our own set up at home and whenever we had people over I saw the interest they had and they always told me how fun it was,” Olson said. “I wanted to do something that pulled away from the electronics kids are glued to and provide a physical activity that’s proven to increase endorphins.”
Switching gears from her background in criminal justice working as a child advocate and leading the Beltrami County Diversion Program, Olson decided to become a small business owner and opened the Hatchet House in early April at 200 Paul Bunyan Drive S. Unit 3, in downtown Bemidji.
Along with state-of-the-art ax throwing, she made sure there would be activities for everyone to enjoy like foosball, shuffleboard, cornhole, ring toss, giant Jenga and a full bar.
Although Olson advertised the Hatchet House early in the summer, she held off on a grand opening event, expecting many of her potential customers -- especially college students -- would be leaving for the summer to go back home. Additionally, as an indoor recreation club she also anticipated many Bemidjians would spend their time in the nice weather enjoying the outdoor attractions the town has to offer.
“I waited to have our grand opening when college classes started back up, I wanted to orient (the event) around the community when they got back from whatever summer activities they were doing,” Olson said. “I let the summer months roll through to get our feet on the ground and get a feel for everything.”
The smell of grilled hot dogs and fresh sweetcorn filled the venue’s parking lot as community members gathered for the long-awaited grand opening event on Sunday, Sept. 11. The event started with a ribbon cutting followed by a cornhole tournament and raffle prizes as the Vikings vs. Packers game was displayed on TVs, plus a whole lot of ax throwing.
Olson can assure that whenever customers walk through the doors of the Hatchet House they will be well taken care of. She said many people think they have to learn the art of ax throwing on their own when they come, but that’s not the case.
“We have a solid set of staff, which I'm blessed with because I know our community has been struggling in that area,” Olson said. “Some people are nervous at first, but we typically change the atmosphere pretty quick and try to put people at ease. We have throwing coaches assigned to every group.”
According to Olson, the ax throwing coaches also double as servers, they’ll help with everything from throwing tips, game set-up, drinks and food so customers can focus on the game. The group’s designated coach will start by giving a safety introduction and demonstrate a couple different techniques on throwing.
“We take care of all your food and drinks so you don't have to leave to go to the bar in the midst of your game,” Olson explained. “A lot of people don't know that and are intimidated coming in because they've never thrown an ax before, but when you come in and get assigned a coach, they will be there with you through your whole experience to help.”
Although the Hatchet House isn’t a full restaurant, they’ve teamed up with Keith’s Old River Pizza and serve additional “Lumberjack Snaxes." At the bar customers will find a wide variety of craft beers, seltzers, ciders and wine.
“If you’re looking for something beyond pizza and snacks, I intentionally wanted to have it so people would still go out into the community to eat at another restaurant, then come throw axes with me,” Olson said. “This is a community thing, I brought this to Bemidji for Bemidji and I still want community members to support the businesses in town.”
Besides the fun and energized atmosphere the Hatchet House has to offer, what Olson enjoys the most is watching children and her staff come out of their shells as they play the sport.
“Ax throwing is actually very empowering for everyone and people come out of their shells as a coach, too,” Olson said. “They learn a lot about themselves and it's fun to watch the dynamic of all the different personalities of the employees I’m working with.”
Strong, weak, young and old, ax throwing levels the playing field for everyone.
“When someone who is a little bit more shy and soft-spoken comes in and they hit a bulls-eye and holler, that's the best feeling in the world,” Olson said. “I always have a big smile on my face when I watch and hear people get energized when they get it. This is such a fun sport for any type, you don't have to be athletic or strong, it's for everybody and that’s what is amazing.”
Olson also mentioned that customers don’t have to throw axes, they can come in and spectate or simply enjoy some pizza and a drink.
Bringing people together
Olson worked as a volunteer firefighter for 13 years before opening the Hatchet House. She knows what it’s like to volunteer her time to help others, motivating her to offer discounts for volunteer emergency medical service employees and for veterans.
Sundays are designated “family fun day,” where all children under the age of 18 can throw for $10 and families can come and watch the afternoon football game.
“Come and watch the Vikings game with us, we run drink specials during the games and hopefully soon we will have our meat raffles started,” Olson added. “I really like the energy that surrounds gathering for football games.”
On Thursdays, students of all ages throw at a discounted rate, providing a safe and fun place for students to hang out with their friends.
“I wanted to have a place where the community can gather and enjoy themselves, no matter what age, you can throw basically age 8 to 80 at our place,” Olson said.
She also added that children on their birthday's throw for free and adults, with a group of six or more, can throw for free on their birthday as well.
“This is meant to bring people together,” Olson said, “not cost them an arm and a leg.”
The Hatchet House is open from 4 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays, 4 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Interested customers can throw for one hour at $25 per person, two hours is $43 per person and the three-hour house special is $60 per person. Reservations are highly recommended to guarantee a lane, but aren't required. Walk-ins are welcome during standard business hours as long as a throwing lane is available.