Photos and story by Yose Cormier
You can hear the thud of metal against wood as soon as you open the door to Lumberjaxe, Ottawa’s third and newest ax-throwing venue.
Owned by Kitchissippi resident Kerry Moher, the building fits seamlessly in the industrial looking yet popular City Centre, right off the Bayview LRT station on the east edge of Kitchissippi Ward.
Lumberjaxe opened its doors over the summer, the brainchild of Kerry and his U.S. based partner, Jason Bidgood, a friend of his from his days at the University of Georgia.
“We kept in touch but about three years ago, he called me and said he had an opportunity to invest in an ax-throwing business. I thought the idea had potential. We weren’t interested in just one place, but wanted to invest in a brand that could travel.”
The partners opened their first Lumberjaxe in Athens, Georgia, before opening the one in Ottawa.
“Initially, I wasn’t inclined in opening in Ottawa. There are already two ax-throwing places in town. But they are out east, in a more industrial part of town,” said Kerry. “I think the other two locations created awareness, but this one is in a great location.This location is much closer to the city – we can’t be more central and in a cool place of town than City Centre. It’s close to the LRT, downtown and Preston Street. It’s a perfect place to start an evening.”
Kerry notes that business was slow in July and August, but in hindsight, he figures that was probably a blessing in disguise.
“It allowed us to get all the permits in, get stuff up to speed and figure out the nuances of the business: what people want and don’t want,” he says. “Since school started, it’s been really busy.”
Kerry wants to assure people the sport is very safe, with participants going through a safety talk before even picking up an ax.
“We have staff constantly watching, and we haven’t had any incidents. I think part of it is because when you pick up an ax, there’s an immediate sense of safety and responsibility. People give them lots of respect.”
Kerry says the most he’s had to do from a safety perspective is deal with splinters because of the wooden target.
“Ax-throwing is a lot of fun. It’s relatively difficult at first, but after a few attempts, anyone can do it – male, female, big or small, you can learn it in about 15 minutes. Part of what makes it fun is that expectations aren’t that high when they come but everyone leaves with a smile on their face. “
The venue has five lanes with two targets each, with up to six people per target. At any one time, there could be up to 150 people in the premises, with 60 people throwing. There is one area that can accommodate 20-30 people at a time and two areas for smaller groups of six to 10.
“One set goes fast. Typically, each person has 10 throws and the one with the most points at the end wins. Most games take only about five minutes. People are here between one to two hours. It tends to be part of their night, the start of their night out.”
Kerry says even with a full house, people don’t get bored. The bar, which primarily serves beer from the nearby Beyond the Pale Brewery, doesn’t hurt. Clients can also order food from City Centre neighbours Smoke Shack, Art-is-In Bakery and Lunch.
“We didn’t think we’d need to have food, but about 80 percent of our clients ask for it. It’s interesting because at our Georgia location, almost no one asks about food,” says Kerry. “We get a ton of bookings for birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties. What’s interesting is we are finding it’s a 50-50 male-female clientele. It’s a great team building activity. We get a lot of companies looking for those opportunities.”
Lumberjaxe also hosts a weekly league, part of the World Ax Throwing League. In fact, the winner of the league will qualify for the World Championships this month in Ohio, which will be broadcast on ESPN.
“The league is a small niche for those who want to be more competitive. The league has about 12-15 participants and is a mix of about 50-50 male and female.”
Kerry has already begun expanding his Ottawa business, bringing in two mobile targets that he can set up at various fairs and festivals around town.
And along with his business partner, Kerry has plans to open additional venues in different countries.
“There’s an advantage to being a first mover. We want to pierce the Australian and New Zealand markets. We may look at potentially partnering with people there. Now, we are focused on learning the operations and nuances of operating these businesses, and then we’ll look at branching out in 2020.”
The idea of expansion was one of the reasons they trademarked the brand Lumberjaxe, along with Lumberjill, “just in case”.
“When we trademarked Lumberjaxe, there was only one other ax-throwing trademark. Now there are like 300,” says Kerry. “At first, I thought this might only be a fad; that it might have a shelflife of 10 to 15 years, but being more involved, and seeing the industry growing, I think there’s a longer-term market. It’s a truly Canadian thing – axe throwing, plaid shirts, lumberjacks – it’s very in line with Canadian culture, or what others perceive as Canadian culture, so I think it will do well internationally.”