Home » A Fresh Face on West Capitol: The renovation, reinvention and reinvigoration of Capitol Bowl
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A Fresh Face on West Capitol: The renovation, reinvention and reinvigoration of Capitol Bowl

Bowlers of all ages enjoy the latest Brunswick equipment on the lanes, as well as entertainment on the flatscreen TVs

A regulation sized bowling lane is 60 feet of polished hardwood. Add room for a pinsetter machine, service area and lane approach, and you’ll find about 100 feet of indoor recreation. Multiply that by about a 12-foot width for every two lanes and add space for a small snack counter, and you have the traditional bowling alley.

Well, traditional thinking was tossed aside when Ross Amin and Chris White combined their energies and visions to give West Sacramento’s Capitol Bowl a rebirth. An Iranian immigrant, Amin graduated with a degree in Industrial Design in Texas. But the Recession hit hard and he moved to New York to pursue the American dream. While there, he found success with rebuilding businesses that had been floundering and then selling them for a profit. When he moved west he discovered the Capitol Bowl on West Capitol Avenue.

The Capitol Bowl arose from the ashes of a West Sacramento landmark, the El Rancho Bowl

The Capitol Bowl was originally the El Rancho Bowl and part of a popular entertainment complex that included the huge El Rancho Hotel across the street. After Highway I-80 was built, bypassing the thriving West Capitol corridor into Sacramento, the El Rancho was sold (becoming a Buddhist monastery, “The City of the Dharma Realm.”). During the same period, the bowling alley and the area around it went through an economically rough period, with many business shutting their doors..

Amin remembered, “When I first walked up to the place, I couldn’t tell if it was open or not.”

Partner Chris White was frank and described it as “a dump.” But 13 years ago, Ross saw a potential in the neglected property and the seemingly forgotten area. He saw the West Capitol area and West Sacramento growth and got very excited about the potential. Architects drew detailed plans for the new entertainment hub, but Amin insisted on a great deal of design input, “because sometimes they don’t understand what works for us.” Through several stages and many years, the Capitol Bowl this week was unveiled.

Walls were knocked down to create an inviting, open, family experience
A full bar and flat screen TVs have made the Capitol Grill a favorite gathering place

Even though Amin admits that he entered into this venture with “no experience” in the field, he vowed to make it succeed. His friends all told him, “Don’t take chances when you don’t know about a business. Don’t lose your money!” But he decided to take a chance, using his passion to help get the business through the rough times. In fact, Amin is proud to say that 70% of the Capitol Bowl’s upgrades were done during the recession. To date, over $600,000 have been spent in the redesign and renovation.

Ross Amin saw the potential and has devoted all of his resources and passion to this West Capitol site

What were his secrets to success? Amin vowed to be involved in every aspect of the business. He also learned from what other small businesses had done, both successes and failures. And, he noted, “Always listen to the customers. They’ll tell you what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong.” He appreciates it when his customers are having fun. “They’re happy, and that’s very rewarding”

The renovations couldn’t happen all at once. White remarked that the first job was painting all the walls so that they were the same color. The original priorities were just to get things functional. “That meant new equipment to run the lanes, an air conditioning system, plumbing that worked and toilets that flushed. That took a long time to get going,” She remembered, “There were some days when we didn’t have a single customer.” But White knew that Amin had a vision of what the place could be, so they worked on it incrementally.

Chris White manages the daily operations of Cap’s Bar & Grill and joined Ross to reinvent Capitol Bowl

In 2011, the Capitol Bowl underwent a major remodeling. According the manager, White, the architect drew elaborate plans, opening up the floorplan and creating a dining area and kitchen that was as serious upgrade. Both Amin and White were convinced there wasn’t enough room for the drawings to come to life. But after the first few walls were knocked down, they then realized how much space the Capitol Bowl had, partitioned by walls, dividers and little dark rooms over the years. In lieu of a wrecking ball, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon (a serious bowler, himself) tossed a ceremonial bowling ball to knock the first hole in the wall. Cabaldon has been a strong supporter of the changes at the former El Rancho Bowl, remarking a the time, “The remodeling of Capitol Bowl adds to the attraction of West Sacramento’s downtown, from the new Community Center to the City College campus, from the Turner Library to the streetscape improvements on West Sacramento Avenue.”

The bowling area was completely painted and remodeled. The latest scorekeeping equipment was brought from Brunswick and installed. Flatscreens overhead keep score, give hints to novice bowlers, give animated “rewards” for strikes and spares and also show sports and other television programming. Automatic bumper rails are programmed to rise or lower for individual bowlers, and a selection of ramps help the youngest bowlers launch their balls down the lanes. On Fridays and Saturdays, the lanes turn into virtual discos as the crowds come in for Glow Bowling.

Part of the new Capitol Bowl’s attraction has been the renovation of the snack bar into “Cap’s Bar & Grill.” White and Amin are proud of how they’ve taken the basic food that most bowlers expect (pizza, burgers and hotdogs) and expanded the menu to bring a full-service sit-down restaurant to the area. They have their bread baked locally and utilize the rich resources that living in the Yolo agricultural area provides. The weekly Thursday West Sacramento Farmers Market is held just down the street and is a regular source of ingredients for Cap’s extensive menu.

Persia-style Chicken Kabobs are a nod to Ross’s heritage and an example of the creative menu
A 1/3 lb. Cap’s Burger and a pineapple margarita, not your typical bowling alley fare

The emphasis on fresh and healthy is evident in both taste and presentation. Even the tomato sauce for the gourmet pizzas is made fresh from locally grown tomatoes. The menu ranges from Persian-style chicken kabobs to 1/3 pound burgers served on artisan rolls. Beverages ranged from sodas and beer to a fully stocked bar, where one could find pineapple margaritas and imported beers sharing a tray with glasses of chardonnay. To add to the upgrade in atmosphere and service, wait staff members take order from and deliver the food and drinks to bowlers at the lanes, as well as to diners in the restaurant area.

As part of the remodeling, the dining area was completely reimagined. Dining settings featured tables adjacent to the bowling lanes, small and large tables in the Bar & Grill area and private party areas. Perhaps the most attention getting area would be the newly created dining courtyard, complete with waterfall wall and a firepit. The revised dining options, along with the Capitol Bowl’s late hours, have given West Sacramento residents a new gather place in the late evenings. White and Amin say they hope that people would come in and say, “This place is so beautiful, I can’t believe it’s a bowling alley.”

The outdoor courtyard at Cap’s Bar & Grill has been a popular addition

Mike McGowan, West Sacramento and Yolo County Supervisor enjoyed Friday’s Open House, dedicating the final stage of the planned remodeling. He praised the current owners for helping to reinvigorate West Capitol Avenue. McGowan also applauded their decision to use the available fresh produce grown in the area, as many of the local farmers have been on the ground floor of the “Farm to Fork” movement. He smiled, tasting a freshly made salad, “It’s a wise decision.”

Monda Korich, owner of The Eatery – a recent addition to the West Sacramento dining scene – also praised Capitol Bowl and Cap’s Bar & Grill. Her family enjoys the atmosphere at the Bowl and regularly visits for both the bowling and the food. She remarked how amazing West Sacramento’s expansion has been, and how small business owners have been supportive of each other. Korich noted that she wasn’t alone in finding the new Capitol Bowl to be open, friendly and inviting.

The owners have dedicated a great deal to repaying the community for its support. Fundraisers and partnerships have been established with local West Sacramento schools, the Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity, among other organizations.

This weekend the Capitol Bowl is hosting two Big Lebowski events. On Saturday, Aug. 24 from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., they’ll be hosting Little Lebowski Urban Achievers Day. Bowling is $25 per hour per lane for up to six people or $4.25 per person per game. A percentage of the proceeds from the bowling and from Cap’s Bar & Grill will benefit Habitat for Humanity. Donors will also get a Lebowski gift.

On Sunday, Aug. 25th, from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Capitol Bowl will celebrate with it’s 4th Annual Big Lebowski Party. This fun-filled event has been brought back after the construction forced it off the calendar for two years. It’s a “grown-up” party with food, beverage, bowling and a Lebowski-themed costume contest. $65 gets you two hours on a lane for up to six fun-loving people. Amin and White expect this to be a packed event, so reservations by Aug. 24th are a must.

Capitol Bowl
Construction photos
West Sacramento Farmers Market
The Big Lebowski Weekend

Editor’s note: The “News Digest” goes out every Tuesday morning and highlights our best stories, photos and videos from the week prior. Sign me up.

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