Manny Morales

Mar 12, 2015, 12:16 PM

Manny Morales had no idea what to expect when his brother suggested taking their kids to a family entertainment center during a 1977 visit to Atlanta. In Puerto Rico, where Morales lived with his family, there was no such thing as an FEC (family entertainment center).

“I fell in love with the concept,” Morales recalls. “I told my wife it was a shame we didn’t have an FEC in Puerto Rico.”

MM Jen Bowlera MarzoMorales, a serial entrepreneur who has owned businesses ranging from an advertising firm to a construction company, had no idea that his 1977 proclamation would lead him to his next business.

In 2006, a tenant backed out of a lease on a 30,000-square-foot space Morales was building in Caguas, Puerto Rico. An economic downturn in Puerto Rico made it difficult to find a new tenant. Morales recalled his FEC experience and decided to use the space to create the island’s first family fun center.

“There was still no place in Puerto Rico where the whole family could go together to have fun,” he recalls. “It seemed like a viable business that could occupy 30,000 square feet so I decided to go for it.”

After attending Foundations Entertainment University, he opened Bowlera in 2008. The FEC features a 17-lane bowling alley, 50 game machines, and a restaurant. In 2013, Bowlera added laser tag.

Although the concept was new to Puerto Rico, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Bowlera attracts upwards of 240,000 guests every year who bowl, play arcade games or laser tag and host birthday parties.

While Morales is proud of the success of Bowlera, it’s not the revenues that keep him excited about his work.

“The most exciting thing is seeing the families smiling and having a good time,” he says. “We create happy moments, memorable experiences and smiles.”

Morales thinks running an FEC is a little like tossing balls into skeeball baskets in the arcade.

“You have to keep many balls in the air at the same time,” he jokes.

Over the last seven years, Morales has learned the secret to making guests want to come back to Bowlera.

“In this business, you have to keep up with what’s going on in the industry and be open to new ideas,” Morales says. “I’m learning from people all over the world.”

Morales joined IAAPA to network with his peers and learn about the latest FEC trends and equipment. As Bowlera continued growing, Morales decided to share his passion for operating an amusement business. He joined the Latin American Education subcommittee and started hosting educational sessions and webinars to help other FEC operators boost their success.

“I want people to know that if you do this with enthusiasm, passion and attention to detail, it’s worthwhile,” he says. “My only regret is feeling sorry that I didn’t do this 15 years earlier.”