Aiming for big successApr 01, 2019 11:57AM ● By J. Chambless
From left: Stumpy’s owners Evan and Anne Correa, and Hector and Milton Delgado.
By John Chambless
The resounding thwack of a hatchet smacking a board has become the soundtrack of a night out, as two hatchet-throwing businesses have just opened in Middletown. One of them is part of a franchise with the tongue-in-cheek name Stumpy’s Hatchet House.
Combining alcohol and sharp objects might seem like a risky business proposition, but for a group of Middletown residents, there’s nothing like squaring off against your friends by hurling hatchets at a bull’s-eye target.
With a décor that’s part hunting lodge and part upscale nightclub, the Middletown location is a place to socialize while honing a skill that’s simple, yet just challenging enough. The business is owned by family members Exan, Hector and Anne Correa, as well as Milton Delgado. They’ve all lived in the Middletown area for decades.
Exan said he didn’t think he would be in the hatchet-throwing business until he booked his birthday party in December 2017 at a Philadelphia site. “We had a group of 24 people from age 30 to 65, all different skill levels, and everyone had a great time,” Exan said.
Milton, for his part, thought, “That’s a stupid idea,” he said, laughing. “I’m not going.” But he and his husband, Hector, were hooked by the end of the night.
The group signed a franchise agreement with Stumpy’s Hatchet House and went through the zoning process, finally finding a home in a huge former warehouse on Middletown Warwick Road. You can’t miss it. It says STUMPY’S in gigantic letters on the side. It took about 10 weeks to renovate the space and build a location that adhered to the company’s general design sense, but the team added some unique twists. There’s a comfortable seating area just inside the front door where guests can wait their turn in the throwing pit, or converse after their session. There’s a bar where beer and wine are sold (the location is not a BYOB), and patrons are welcome to bring their own meals and snacks, or order from local restaurants.
Guests check in online before arriving, or at a table that was built by Exan, where they sign waivers that are an essential part of the business. But it’s not as dangerous as it might sound. There are hosts who can explain hatchet throwing and offer tips on technique if needed, or guests who are familiar with hatchet throwing can be on their own after they sign in. There are various game variations hanging on a clipboard outside each throwing pit, so guests can choose their level of difficulty.
“We went with the tagline ‘A Social Throwdown,’” Exan said. “A lot of hatchet places will stress the competition. If you want us to, we can do that, or we can back away. If you need us, let us know, and we can give you more instructions. Our coaches have as much, or as little, interaction as the group wants.”
The time slots are one or two hours long, with no set-up or clean-up if you’re having a party. There are napkins, plates and cutlery available if needed. When the 11 pits are full and everyone’s throwing – and ringing a bell when they score a bull’s-eye – Stumpy’s can sound like a battle zone. “I’ve tried to talk on the phone when everyone is throwing and I’m saying, ‘What? I can’t hear you!’” Milton said, laughing.
Stumpy’s had an opening in February, and has been building clientele and word-of-mouth ever since. “Every week we see growth,” Exan said. “We just booked a party of 40 people. We’ve had everyone from 21 on up. … The lanes are marked from 12 to 15 feet, so people can get the best distance. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to get the hang of it, then we hear a roar when somebody does it. Women often pick it up sooner.”
Hatchet throwing is not a matter of strength. In fact, if you throw too hard, the hatchet can bounce off the target. Finesse is required. “Anyone can get the hang of it,” Anne said. “My friends were in her recently and the husband is more of athlete. She got it right away. All you need to do is pay attention to the form. It can become a competitive thing between men and women, and that’s great.”
“We had a group of women who were in their 60s,” Milton said, “and they were nailing it.”
Adding to the fun are the two giant Jenga games that were an afterthought purchase when the site was opening, but now have become an essential part of a night at Stumpy’s. Whenever someone isn’t throwing, they can be building towering structures that inevitably fall with a mighty clatter, getting cheers from everyone in the club. “It’s a great addition for some extra fun,” Anne said.
The pits are named by the owners, with rustic signs designating “Piture Perfect,” “Pit Crew,” “Pit-O,” “The Sand Pit,” “The Peach Pit” and more. There’s a line of T-shirts with witty slogans, and a sign out front advises visitors, “Don’t be an axehole.”
The owners are hoping Stumpy’s will be a regional draw that will bring people to Middletown to try other attractions. “We’ve been talking to our guests as they come in, and it’s nice to see people driving from Wilmington,” Exan said. “We had someone here from Philadelphia. One of our goals with this was to make Middletown a destination, and so far that’s happening. Our hope is that people come here, have a good time, then go to Metro Pub, or Greene Turtle, or Volunteer Brewing. We have a lot of cool places in town now. We’re just glad we’re a part of it.”
“This is about bringing people to a place that’s comfortable, and slightly upscale, but not too much,” Milton added. “This is the kind of business I’ve always wanted to have. A business where our goal is to make sure everybody has a good time.”
Stumpy’s Hatchet House is at 819 Middletown Warwick Road, Middletown. Visit www.StumpysMiddletown.com for hours and more information.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].