Four Entrepreneurs Strike Gold With Whimsical Mini Golf Course
Company: Can Can Wonderland
Location: St. Paul
When Jennifer Pennington, her husband, Chris, and their friends Christi Atkinson and Rob Clapp opened their indoor mini golf course last January, business exploded. The four had to quickly double their staff size to keep up with the crowds. A little over a year since opening, their employee count is up to 75 and they are preparing for a $1 million expansion.
Located in a historic St. Paul warehouse once home to the American Can Co., Can Can Wonderland is much more than a mini golf course. The indoor space includes a restaurant, two bars (one for ice cream concoctions and one for eccentric cocktails), two stages for live performances and what Jennifer Pennington calls the “Boardwalk of Amusements,” which includes vintage arcade games, Ping-Pong and foosball.
Can Can currently has about 19,000 square feet of space open to the public, and the expansion is expected to add about another 10,000 square feet, says Pennington. A self-service tap beer wall, a third bar, three private event spaces, additional seating, and nursing rooms for mothers are all part of the expansion plan. The private event space is an important amenity for Can Can, given the high demand for such events. That demand is one reason the facility is only open to the public Thursday through Sunday—it’s also open only to those 21 or older after 9 p.m.
Eventually, Pennington and her team want to expand to the rooftop and add an outdoor mini golf course. “I don’t think we will ever be done,” she says; she views the facility as a community gathering space. “I want to create a place for everyone, where everyone feels welcome.”
What’s more, Can Can Wonderland is the first arts-based public benefit corporation in Minnesota. “Our social purpose is to be an economic engine for the arts,” says Pennington. The 18-hole golf course was designed and fabricated by 56 local artists and includes two holes designed by a few seventh-grade boys. Can Can also brings in about 40 artists a week to lead several art-related programs such as improv, karaoke and tap dancing.
The idea for Can Can stemmed from many different inspirations, including Atkinson’s involvement developing the Walker Art Center’s popular artist-inspired mini golf and the Penningtons’ passion to engage people in the arts in an interactive way.
“Mini golf attracts every demographic,” says Pennington. “Some people might not come for the art, but they might stumble upon it and become interested.”
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Whether it’s the mini golf, the art, the food or a combination, Can Can continues to stay busy. This year, Pennington predicts revenue will reach $4.5 million.