Growing up in Highland Park, attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison for undergrad and obtaining a law degree from Northwestern University would make Scott Hollander seem like a pretty savvy, traditional Chicagoan, but he's actually something of a mold-breaker. In fact, he broke that mold with an axe.
Before law school, Hollander traveled the U.S. performing community service. It was during this trip he journeyed to the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming, and there came upon the world of axe-throwing. He became infatuated with the sport when returning to the U.S. Last year, he quit his job as a commercial litigator, traveled some more, and during a stop in Montreal, discovered the business of recreational axe-throwing. He came back home and set out to create his own axe-throwing studio, Thunderbolt.
Hollander reached out for potential financiers as well as the National Axe Throwing Federation, which supported his mission of bringing axe-throwing to Chicago. This month, he opened the Thunderbolt (www.thunderboltchi.com).
And it goes without saying that an axe-throwing Jew is a Jew You Should Know.
1. At what point did you realize axe-throwing could be more than a passion and what inspired you to open Thunderbolt?
After seeing the business in Montreal, I was immediately inspired. I was certain that if someone could make the axe-throwing experience available in Chicago, people would love it. Chicagoans love active, new experiences
When I got back from my trip, I began bouncing the idea off of friends -- particularly friends who were experienced in business and entrepreneurship. I invested time into creating a business plan, financial model, etc., but all of that felt more like an academic exercise and learning experience; it never truly felt serious until I got my first investor.
2. Was there previously an axe-throwing scene in Chicago? How do you see Thunderbolt changing it?
When I decided to open Thunderbolt, there was no axe-throwing scene in Chicago, and virtually no scene in the United States. Another business has since opened up in Chicago, but, coincidentally, we both had our locations chosen and were in the midst of the building and business license process before we even knew about each other! I guess Chicago really was a great opportunity to introduce axe-throwing to the United States.
I'm very excited about what Thunderbolt will do for the Chicago axe-throwing scene. Most axe-throwing places are open for special events only (often 12-plus people required). What I love about Thunderbolt is that we have a lot of lanes (10), which allows us not only to host special events, but also to have open hours five days per week. This allows smaller groups of friends to reserve lanes or drop in whenever without having to plan a large party in advance. It allows people to come play with flexibility, on their own terms. We're also located on the northwest side of the city, near the 90-94 junction, which is going to allow a lot of people in the suburbs to come try it out.
3. Is axe-throwing about exercise or recreation? What are the benefits?
I would say axe-throwing is more about recreation. Don't get me wrong -- it can be a good arm exercise, and if you get into a brisk rhythm of throwing and retrieving, you'll find that it gets your heart beating. But for the most part, it's recreational. What I enjoy most, however, is that it takes persistence and troubleshooting in order to succeed. It's more about mental focus and technique than brute strength.
4. What are some common misconceptions about axe-throwing?
The most common one is that people assume it's dangerous. Many people assume that the axes are very sharp (they're not actually knife-sharp), or that someone will miss and hit another person. But so far, I've found that once people try it, they become much more comfortable. The other axe-throwing places around North America and the rest of the world have excellent safety records, and I have tried my best to learn from their experience and model our lanes and safety protocols after those successes.
Another misconception is that only 20-something, bearded, flannel-wearing men will enjoy or succeed at axe-throwing. The truth is that I've seen all types of people walk out of my place with giant smiles on their faces. I've come to believe that it's more about being open-minded. Persistence also helps!
5. What are your long-term goals for the studio?
Mid-to-long term, I would simply like to see Thunderbolt become a fixture of recreation in Chicago. I love the idea that it can be a place for people to celebrate occasions, meet new friends, and prepare for the impending zombie apocalypse, all at the same time. It would be great if Chicago (and eventually the United States) could develop somewhat of a sub-culture of axe-throwing, like the one that exists in Canada. I would personally be honored to be a part of creating that subculture.
Very long term, I would probably be interested in expanding to other cities. But I'm also a pretty eclectic guy with a lot of other ideas, so I can see myself venturing into entirely different industries, as well.
6. What is the most unusual thing you have thrown an axe into?
Probably the drywall of my current place (sorry, landlords!). That was a pretty embarrassing moment ... I've also tried plastic bottles and other objects around the place, but I haven't gotten too crazy with it … yet. When my birthday comes around in September, I'll probably be tempted to try a birthday cake.
7. Are there different types of throwing axes? If so, what are the different types? Which do you prefer?
Pretty much any axe can be thrown. Our standard axe is the one that we get directly from our friends at NATF. They're one-sided and wooden-handled. These are my favorite, because they're competition axes and I know that if I go to any other NATF members, I'll be able to compete with them. I also just really like how they're balanced.
We also have some other types of axes available for use. Some axes are two-sided, and some are "full tang", which means the steel runs all the way down the handle. These look pretty cool, but the full tang changes the balance of the axe. I like to teach people on the NATF axes and then give them the option to change it up later -- that way, they can first focus on just one type and hone their skills.
8. How do you Jew in Chicago?
I missed the last YLD Big Event Fundraiser, but that's always been my favorite. The acts are always great and it's nice to go with or run into people I know from the burbs or from Birthright. Really any Young Leadership Division event is a lot of fun. I did LEADS a few years back and enjoyed that a lot, too, so I'd love to get back into it if my schedule ever stabilizes. Besides that, I just like to celebrate the holidays with family!
Photos by Alex Vaynman