Monday, April 19

Stumpy’s Hatchet House to offer cutting edge entertainment in Huntington Beach – Orange County Register

Swinging axes and swigging beers: What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the name of the place – Stumpy’s Hatchet House – suggests at least one potential snafu.

Huntington Beach is soon to boast this cutting-edge style of entertainment, which may well be the hottest trend you’ve never heard of.

In the four years since the original debuted in New Jersey, 25 Stumpy’s Hatchet Houses have popped up around the country. Huntington Beach’s will be the first on the West Coast.

As for risks to life and limb, the chain’s founders compare hatchet throwing to bowling – a sport that involves 16-pound cannon balls and, often, the likes of Jack Daniels and Jose Cuervo.

On Nov. 11, the Huntington Beach Planning Commission voted  5-2  to approve a Stumpy’s on Edinger Avenue near Golden West College. It is expected to at least partially open this spring, depending on coronavirus numbers.

Local couple Eric and Adriana LaShelle became enamored with Stumpy’s last year when they visited the flagship location in Eatontown, New Jersey.

“We’d been going down the road of buying a traditional franchise,” said Eric LaShelle, 42, who works in video animation. “We decided, ‘Let’s do the crazy idea, instead!’”

Hatchet-tossing venues dot Southern California, including in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties. However, Stumpy’s will be the only hatchet-pitching enterprise in Orange County legally authorized for beer and wine consumption.

An attempted start-up in Costa Mesa wound up missing the mark. AXT opened September of 2018, inviting customers to bring their own spirits. But it was shut down by a few months later, when the city said the owners had not received permission to sell alcoholic beverages.

The AXT website still reads: “Temporarily closed on account of having a little too much fun!”

Huntington Beach Planning Commissioner John Scandura voiced his own concerns about mixing booze and sharp objects, arguing for a two-drink limit. But the majority felt Stumpy’s will be a good fit for Surf City.

“It’s no less safe than throwing darts at a bar,” Vice Chairman Dan Kalmick said, adding that “Huntington Beach is all about personal responsibility.”

Scandura later said that the hatchet-throwing craze was news to him.

“My son threw hatchets in Boy Scouts,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. But alcohol introduces a whole new element. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re drinking. People could get careless and grab the wrong end. Or what happens if the hatchet slips out of your hand?”

Stumpy’s co-founder Kelly Josberger said stringent protocols are in place. “We have our safety measures nailed down,” she said. “It’s a very controlled environment.”

Customers must undergo training prior to handling hatchets. Groups of friends are confined to their own “pits” – separate enclosures with wooden targets. Coaches oversee each pit.

And the price tag – about $25 per person per hour – deters impulsive mischief makers.

Josberger was an elementary school principal when she, her husband Stuart, and another 50-something couple, Mark and Trish Oliphant, hit upon the notion.

“We were looking to do something fun after retiring at some point from our day jobs,” Josberger said. “During a backyard barbecue, the men started throwing a hatchet at a stump. Trish and I were like, ‘Boys will be boys.’ But then we started playing, too. It was addictive.”

The foursome found themselves contemplating the possibilities. Already, they would learn, the drinking game was all the rage in Canada.

“We liked that it’s social, noncompetitive, and doesn’t involve technology,” Josberger said. “When we started investigating properties to rent, it was a bit of a challenge. Landlords found the concept interesting but didn’t totally get it.”

Proprietors weren’t the only ones. “Our families thought we were totally crazy,” Josberger said.

The partners landed on the humorous name “by design,” Josberger admitted. “We like that it sounds edgy,” she said with a laugh. “But the main reason we chose ‘Stumpy’s’ is that the whole thing started with a tree stump.”

Arriving in April of 2016, Stumpy’s immediately hit the bull’s eye.

“Our initial plan was to open a couple more in the area,” Josberger said. “We had no intention of franchising. But then people from out of state would say, ‘I want to start one of these in my town.’”

Enter the LaShelles.

“Huntington Beach is the perfect place for this kind of business,” said Adriana LaShelle, 39, who owns a marketing firm. “You have serious business people, you have surfers, and then you have the rowdy folks who just want to be entertained.”

And next, enter COVID.

“We literally had just signed our lease when everything started shutting down (in March),” Eric LaShelle said.

But they also count their blessings. “Although it was scary, we almost felt that the fact we hadn’t opened yet was fortunate,” Adriana LaShelle said. “I feel terrible for new businesses that were trying to get off the ground.”

Stumpy’s patrons must be at least 21 years of age, but many franchisees offer an occasional alcohol-free family day. The LaShelles, who have an 11-year-old son, hope to do so, as well.

Although he expressed reservations, Planning Commissioner Scandura hailed Stumpy’s as an innovative business for Huntington Beach.

“It’s certainly an exciting concept,” he said. “I wish them the best of luck.”








































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