When it came to opening a new business in Wesley Chapel, Michael and Alicia Esenwein (photo) could have taken a nice, safe route.
Maybe a nice little coffee shop, a cozy family restaurant, or even a charming retail hot spot.
They chose…axe throwing?
“It’s kind of a weird story,” Mike says. “It wasn’t ever really a long-range plan…I’m not sure anyone ever plans (something like this).”
Once you talk to Seven Oaks residents Mike and Alecia, though, the story of The Kilted Axe — which will be a combination of a hip bar and hangout for axe-throwing enthusiasts when it opens on Saturday, January 18, 5 p.m., in The Grove — actually makes perfect sense.
After all, this is a couple that three years ago sold everything they owned — except for a Christmas tree Alicia says she couldn’t get rid of — and, with three young kids in tow, traveled the world for 18 months, with stops in Indonesia, Thailand, Italy and Costa Rica.
So naturally, the Esenweins’ adventurous spirit would lead to owning an axe-throwing business.
“We were living in North Carolina temporarily, and were looking for something to do and there were like 10 locations on the east coast there that had axe throwing,” Mike says. “Most of it was in barns, or a rugged setting, but there was one place in Wilmington that was upscale and had a bar and a restaurant. We just loved it. It was a cool place to hang out.”
It wasn’t until a few years after returning from North Carolina, after running some successful Under Armour flag football leagues as well as doing a little teaching — Mike was an online computer science professor for the University of Virginia and American Public University — that Alicia became restless.
“I want to do something,” she told Mike, and soon the idea for The Kilted Axe had flowered. It had been, after all, the one thing she had been asked about most by friends when they returned from North Carolina, thanks to some of her Facebook pictures.
They passively started looking at barns and warehouses for a site, but were also looking to buy a house, so they decided to put the business idea on hold until 2020.
A trip to The Grove, however, changed everything. Remembering it as a moribund center lacking zip, they drove by when they heard developer Mark Gold had bought it.
Gold, the high-charged developer with a big vision for his property, happened to be standing outside. They chatted. And Gold, who has axe-throwing places at some of his other properties, insisted they start their business as soon as possible.
“Most people wouldn’t rent a space like this for axe throwing,” Mike says. “They want restaurants. Mark knows, though. He loved the idea.”
After meeting some of the other business owners who had already signed leases with Gold, they were sold.
Axe throwing is a trendy, growing sport. The International Axe Throwing Federation (IATF) says there are more than 6,000 league members in more than 100 cities and six countries. It is a staple in lumberjack competitions and has been televised on ESPN.
Mike and Alicia compare it to throwing darts; it’s just a matter of getting the technique down.
The Kilted Axe will have three throwing lanes, all safely fenced in and manned by “Axeperts” there to help.
There also will be a lounge and balcony to hang out and have a few drinks or host an event. “Kind of like an old school pool hall feel,” Mike says.
And, because you have to be wondering — yes, mixing beer, wine and axe throwing can be safe.
“If you show up intoxicated and ready to throw axes, well, guess what? It’s not going to happen,” Mike says.
There will be men’s and women’s leagues, co-ed leagues, and even events for kids. Mike and Alicia have three kids — Jason, 14; Hailey, 12, and Hannah, who is 4. They all think axe throwing is pretty cool.
Alicia says she can’t wait for The Kilted Axe to open. Any fear that they were rushing into a crazy idea dissolved when they posted the news on Facebook, which lit up with enthusiasm.
More than 3,700 people say they are interested in attending opening night. Almost 300 say they are going for sure. A dozen or so people have signed up for leagues, a few nights are already booked for corporate events, and it’s one of the more buzzworthy new places set to open in Wesley Chapel.
“It was a crazy response,” Alicia says. “We’re anxious. Believe me, we’re anxious!”
For more information, visit TheKiltedAxe.com, or search for “Kilted Axe” on Facebook.