Nickel City Gritty: Hatchets & Hops
Let's get real...life can be stressful sometimes.
How do you relieve stress? Yoga? Meditation? Exercise? How about throwing an axe at a wooden target with all of your might?
Thanks to Hatchets & Hops, hurling an axe at a wall will be your new favorite way to unwind, de-stress, and have a blast while doing it.
Hatchets & Hops was started by friends Dustin Snyder and Andrew Piechowicz after discussing how there was a major need for more indoor activities in Buffalo. They visited an axe throwing club in Canada, fell in love with the sport, and decided that they had to bring it to the Queen City. Not only are you able to throw an axe, but you are also welcome to enjoy a nice frosty brew while you are doing so, hence their very clever name. But fear not, dear readers. Mixing axes and alcohol is NOT dangerous. In fact, Dustin and Andrew have assured me that it's actually safer now more than ever, as their patrons do not have to feel the need to "pregame" before they come in and are able to drink responsibly while having fun with their friends.
Please enjoy listening to their playlists while you read all about how they started their business, Dustin's unconventional spirit animal(s), and Andrew's love of dancing...by himself.
This is Nickel City Gritty, and this is Dustin & Andrew of Hatchets & Hops.
How did Hatchets & Hops come to be?
Andrew: I guess, simply put, it was a desire to add something to the city that was different. Obviously there's a lot of places to eat and drink, but nothing really to do. We felt that Buffalo needed something to do. I mean, you can really only have so many breweries before it's like, "Cool, another one." So that idea was in our heads for a while, trying to figure out what could it be, what's gonna be that thing. We ended up making a trip up to Northern Ontario and experienced axe throwing for the first time and was immediately hooked. We said, "This is what Buffalo needs." We decided to look at that idea, add our own twist to it, and put it in a position where it was gonna be right for the Buffalo market. The way that they do it was right for their market, but wasn't right for our market. That's probably the simple answer.
Dustin: Yeah, the sport of axe throwing is an amazing sport, it's really engaging. It's something people generally, if they have a good instructor, pick up and have a blast with on a Friday night, but it's a little bit deeper than that, too. It makes people go outside of their comfort zone, it makes them try something new, so it's exciting in that regard. And then it's a little scary, too. A lot of people are like, "I don't know if I can do it or I'm worried I might get hurt." There's all types of different concerns that people have. It was nice to show people that they could do something that they thought they could never do. That runs a lot deeper in our brand and our crew here at Hatchets & Hops, too.
Andrew: We wanted to be in the city, because we felt like the city was the right place to be. It's kind of the intersecting point of all parts of Buffalo. This location just worked out for us perfect with the timing. I love being where we are, especially because we were here while this whole area (Main Street) was changing. We watched the street open back up to traffic, and that was a pretty incredible piece to be a part of. We were doing something kind of new, while they are also changing the way that they do things.
Describe your personal style.
D: Fashion blogger. *laughs*
A: I think, definitely for me, it's got to be something with style and function. I want to be able to move in everything, I want to be able to do anything. I like to build things, I like to move around and engage in activities, and I don't want to be limited by what I'm wearing. At the same time, I don't want to look like a mess all the time. I don't want to be wearing just work clothes or athletic clothes. That's probably the way I would describe myself.
D: I know I just abuse the hell out of whatever it is I'm wearing, I just have really high expectations for it. I'm pretty demanding, whether it's shoes or a pair of pants or a shirt. I think I'm the same as Andrew. I want it to be very functional. I want to be able to move in it, I want to be able to beat the hell out of it, but I want to look good doing it, too. I'm conscious with how I'm presenting myself to other people. I go from a day job where I'm wearing a suit and tie all day to here throwing axes at night. I like to be able to translate with stuff that's versatile and durable, but I appreciate the art behind clothing, too.
What is the last thing that you googled?
D: Should I check?
Yep! Gotta check!
A: Oh god, this is gonna get real weird. How do you know the last thing you googled?
D: Because google knows! Oh, I googled the State of the Union address last night. Nothing exciting. I could probably go deeper. Does it go deeper?
A: Let's go deep.
D: Every time I go camping, like I was in the Adirondacks a couple weeks ago, and we'd be having conversations at night in the cabin we were staying at, and we'd be talking about something and I'd be like, "Oh, I have to google that," because nobody knew the answer to it and we didn't have reception, and it was the most painful experience. It was serious first world problems.
Which of your five senses is the strongest?
A: Ummmm, I guess this may sound weird, given the fact that I wear glasses, but I feel like my sight is. I look at it more of like a perception thing, I notice things. Not that I can't necessarily see well, but I notice things. I notice when things are out of place, or when things are due or changed or just might seem a bit off.
D: I feel like I have a fifth sense. I can always tell when it's already raining.
So just like Karen from Mean Girls!
D: *laughs* Ummm...I don't know. I feel like I smell things and have these strong memories associated with them, like I'll smell something and have memories from a third grade classroom or something like that. So I don't know, maybe smell. But, also same as Andrew. When something's off, I have a little bit of OCD. So if things aren't lined up or if effort is not put into something, I'll definitely notice it.
A: I think it probably goes a lot with trying to build something and make a business. You learn to focus on things that could be a bit "off" every night because as you're building this you have an idea in your head so you constantly know what you're looking for and if it's not there you're like, "Why? Why is this not there?"
D: Yeah, I mean owning your own business, we kind of put ourselves in the shoes of the people walking through our door. So, what are they seeing, what are they hearing, what are they smelling, what are they tasting. We've been doing this for a long time, and if you don't start fresh and if you let the sights and sounds become normal and don't reset yourself every now and then and look at things with a fresh set of eyes, you might lose perspective of those people who are looking at it with a fresh set of eyes and are giving you their hard earned money.
A: We've been doing this for so long that it's easy to forget that most people who walk through the door are experiencing this for the first time. You know, axe throwing seems so normal for us and it's an every day part of our lives. Some people it's like, literally couldn't imagine doing this before. So it's weird to kind of look at it from this perspective.
If you had a warning label attached to you what would it say?
A: Mine would probably be "Two speeds: zero and one hundred, nothing in between. Be careful." *laughs* I'm either very extra, or not at all.
D: I'm way too task focused. If there's a problem or challenge or something in front of me, I'm immediately lazered in on that and I forget a lot of times to be a little more touchy feely. I think. I don't know. *laughs* I don't know! Andrew, you've been stuck with me for years, what would mine be?
A: Don't sneak up behind him! Like he said, when he's too focused on tasks, so anything going on around him might be missed.
D: Which has served me well over the years, but unfortunately it's sort of a weakness.
How different was your life one year ago?
D: I think I sleep a little more now.
A: I'm definitely home more! When we first opened, I wasn't home at all.
D: The very cool thing is that we have an amazing crew here at Hatchets & Hops, from the instructors to the kitchen and bar staff. They have all made this their own and when we first opened, we had to be very attentive to every little thing as they were learning and growing, but we're to a point where I don't even worry about it on the weekends. I know they've got it and I know if there's something challenging, they're going to honest about it, but they're amazing and the customers have an amazing time with them. I couldn't ask for better people on our team. My stress level is way lower than it was a year ago.
A: It was a nice feeling the day that we could walk away and we knew it wasn't going to blow up. Because in the beginning it's like, you don't know. It's like completely unexpected. I was afraid to leave because I didn't know what would happen if I wasn't there, and I don't think anyone knew because it's not like there was a handbook on how to do this. Nobody really knew what to expect when people are throwing axes and then obviously we had a reboot of that when we started serving. We learn, because when we opened it was about throwing axes, but then we had to learn how to throw axes while people drink.
D: Honestly I think that's a huge piece of it. Getting the liquor license. This time last year we were legitimately worried. Will we be able to get the liquor license or not. We convinced the city of Buffalo, we convinced the insurance company, we convinced everyone except the state liquor authority. That was a big hurdle to get over. We were worried because it's half our business. People walked through the door and said, "This axe throwing thing is so much fun and we love it here, but we wish your bar was operational!" So that was scary for a long time. But we've crossed that bridge and I think that it's actually been safer. Now that we are actually serving, people are being so much more responsible. They come here and have a beer while they are experiencing our business.
"How often in life do you get to be really terrified?"
What is your spirit animal?
D: An owl.
D: Wait. Can I redo? Are there redo's?
D: Okay, so what if you like took an owl and a grizzly bear and they became best friends?
A: Wait, an owl riding a grizzly bear?
D: Yes, but like on his shoulders. Not like in a weird way. Because I'm a total night owl. I feel like owls are pretty relaxed and I like grizzly bears. They're pretty majestic. I've also never seen one, and I feel like they'd be the coolest animal to see in person.
It would be terrifying!
D: Yes, but how often in life do you get to be really terrified?
A: Like genuinely terrified.
D: Yes, like to point of where you're thinking, "I actually might not live."
I would actually rather not...do that.
A: You're not wrong for thinking that.
D: I mean, we opened an axe throwing place, there's already something wrong with us! *laughs*
A: Yeah, that's probably true. So I have no idea what mine would even be!
D: So, I think, Andrew likes very understated stuff, like his dog is very small. It's like the Energizer Bunny. You wouldn't think that it's as energetic as it is, but it hikes with him and stuff. So it should be something small, but...
A: Resilient. Yeah, my dog is crazy.
Would your dog be your spirit animal?
A: I do think that we are one in the same.
Which one of the Seven Dwarfs is most like you? (Happy, Dopey, Sneezy, Doc, Grumpy, Sleepy & Bashful)
D: I don't think I've ever seen Snow White.
A: I guess I'd probably have to say Dopey. Because it's probably the one that I'd say I'm the closest to.
(To Dustin) Are you Grumpy?
A: He is grumpy! Look at him right now!
D: I'm just trying to remember them all prancing around dancing.
A: It's because they had to work. They loved working.
They whistled while they worked!
D: They do whistle while they work! I whistle while I work, it gets me in trouble. I don't know...which one whistles? Do they all whistle?
A: Yes, they all whistle!
D: Okay, so I'm Whistley.
Sorry, there's no Whistley.
D: I think I'd probably have to be Doc, then.
He was like the old man of the group, right?
A: I think it's more of an age thing. Dustin is like, in his 60's. Generally speaking, he's pretty close to retirement.
What's on your playlist?
A: I've been listening to Aoki's House, Steve Aoki has a podcast. I listen to that a lot. It kind of keeps me going.
D: I have like two settings: folk music and Taylor Swift. It's either City and Colour or Taylor Swift. When "Look What You Made Me Do" came out I had that on solid repeat for about a month.
You work your dance moves?
D: Yeah, so when we close down after we are open on the weekend, normally the crew throws together, and if I'm anywhere near the playlist, "Bootylicious" comes on. But you would be surprised how much fun that is to throw axes to.
So you're basically a 16 year old girl.
A: He wears a lot of hats. He's a 65 year old man, a 16 year old girl...
D: Those are the hats.
A: Yep, that's it, just two!
If you were arrested with no explanation, what would your family assume you had done?
A: Definitely something stupid. They would assume it wasn't dangerous, just stupid.
D: It be vehicle related.
A: It would probably be you trying to see if your vehicle could go over an obstacle in the way. "I bet you could drive over that!"
D: Yeahhhh. It wouldn't be anything immoral. It would just be like...menace to society.
Just raising hell?
D: Or public indecency. I'm trying to think of all the times I'm surprised I didn't get arrested. Most of them were in high school.
A: There's always those typical, just shaking your head moments. At the time it would seem like a great idea, but in the end it definitely was not. But nobody gets hurt, nothing really illegal. It'd be something dumb like mowing my lawn at four in the morning just because.
D: I've always wanted to swim across the Niagara River because everyone says you can't do it. Every time I hike the gorge I'm like, "I could swim that!" And everyone is like, "No you can't, there's rapids! No man can swim across the Niagara River!"
A: Challenge accepted.
So you would probably end up dying before you got arrested.
D: No, I'd just end up in Canada and they'd give me poutine. "Man, you just swam across the river, you probably need something to eat, huh? Here's your free healthcare!"
So next time you disappear, we can assume you're in Canada eating poutine?
D: Well, I mean, that's normal anyway.
What are some of your personal "rules" that you never break?
A: I always try not to make excuses for things. If I don't want to do something or if it's not important to me, I'll own it. It might suck saying it, but if I could admit it to myself that it wasn't important to me, it's easy to move on.
D: You're also always in bed by 9pm.
A: True, but I get up at 4:30am. I like to stick to a pretty rigid schedule. It helps me function better. I try to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time and try to do very similar things every day. If I don't have a schedule I'll run around in circles and not get anything done. But I think it's just being accountable for myself. Probably the only thing I really hold strong and almost never break.
D: I don't know. I'm not good with rules. I feel like you just need good reasons for stuff. I hate rules. I like how this question comes after the question about what would we get arrested for.
A: It's a hard question. I feel like there's a lot of things that you tell yourself in life. You don't define them as the rules of your existence. You just kind of give yourself a guidance of decision making. This could be a completely random pivot, but basically the rules that we both kind of agreed upon at one point was creating our values for this business. Like what defined our decisions. Not hard and fast rules, but making sure everything aligns with qualities and values that are important to us.
D: Yeah. That's actually, like, I very clearly remember that day. We sat down in front of a white board and we threw everything that's important to us on the wall. Everything that came out of our mouths went on this white board. We then started to erase things until there were six things left. We could not imagine owning a business and moving forward in our lives without those six things. And they were the only things that remained out of a hundred things that were on that board. It just wasn't negotiable. And, they're more qualities and values than "rules."
A: I think when you're doing something like this, you can't follow the rules because there are no rules to guide this. You have to just trust yourself to make good decisions, and having values to guide us made it a lot easier.
D: It's not about following something else, it's about having that trust and confidence in yourself, confidence being one of our values, to just trailblaze and do something where there are no rules.
"I will most likely dance whether anyone is around or not."
If a theme song played every time you entered the room, what would it be?
D: I should probably look at my "most played songs of 2017"
It was Taylor Swift, wasn't it?
D: Look, don't just assume things about me. It's not like you've interviewed me. *scrolling through phone* Okay, let's see. Alright. Yes, alright. *starts laughing* So, not Taylor Swift. I like Barnes Courtney "Glitter and Gold." I love that song. I could do that.
A: Okay, so if I was going out, it would probably be "Dancing With Myself" by Billy Idol. That's pretty much what goes through my head every time I go out. I'm just gonna be weird and it's gonna be by myself.
D: Before Andrew and I became friends, there was this one time, we got our MBA together at UB, and one day after class we decided to go get a beer. I think Blue Monk is where we started. We intended to just have a beer or two. All of a sudden it was like 6am. We were at Hardware and Andrew was dancing by himself in a hoodie, holding onto his hood and I will never forget that image.
A: If there's no one around I don't even care.
D: This is way before Hatchets & Hops existed!
A: It's kind of been a reoccurring theme that I will most likely dance whether anyone is around or not. I have my own little party in my head.
What are some of your favorite bars and restaurants in Buffalo?
D: We both love Mexican food.
A: I have gone weeks with just eating tacos. It's definitely something that I've never been sick of. I could never be like, "Oh, I had a taco yesterday." Nope, that doesn't count. Your point being? I think that's pretty much as a collective group we eat a lot.
D: I love that Buffalo has good whisky bars now. I'm a huge whisky guy, and to go to Billy Club and now since Lucky Day is right around the corner it's just terrible because we're there all the time. They have an amazing selection and they price their whisky very fairly. I can try something new and I know all of my go-to's. I can't go to Buffalo Proper because John knows what I like and he pours me way too much of it. *laughs* No matter what mood you're in, there's something that's amazing quality. People in Buffalo are doing everything and we're doing everything well. There's no shortage of food and drink here.
A: There is a place pretty much for every mood now, and I think that's exciting. You don't have to be stuck going "somewhere." Except The Pink. You still have to go to The Pink. It's the closing down of every night. No matter what. But, Lucky Day seems to be the common one, because it's got good selection. You know, a lot of times during "bar time" we are here. The way we handle our bar, there's always new beer on tap, there's always a different selection. Even throughout the weekend you may see the same tap have four different beers. I'm always here trying new things. It's easy. Plus, when this place is full, the energy in here is incredible. So it's like I find myself hanging out here more than going out, but then it's like when we're done we're like, "Okay, where are we gonna go?" We just like to go right across the street to Lucky Day.
D: Yeah, but here people ask me what we have on tap, and I'm like, "I don't know!" I legitimately do not know. I could have known an hour ago and it's different now. We try to do such different stuff with our taps. Big Ditch is right around the corner and they make amazing beer, but you can get a Hayburner anywhere in the city, but that's not what we want to showcase. We want to showcase what our breweries can REALLY do. You might like an IPA and you might like Big Ditch, but we're gonna show you something that you haven't had before.
A: There was a couple times over the last year that we had beer from Big Ditch that they weren't selling at their tap room. That's the exciting piece. When the breweries are calling and telling you, "Hey, we just made this and we're excited about it, do you want it?" And we're like, "Yes!" We're lucky to have a captive audience. Our bar isn't just a stagnant vessel that just pours beer.
When do you feel the most confident?
D: I think when there's a challenge in front of me. Like when I can focus on accomplishing something. When the pressure's on. If I walk in that bay and throw an axe right now, it won't stick on the target. If it's down to one point and and I need to stick that axe, it's going in.
A: You got all serious. I was just gonna say that I feel more confident after a cup of coffee.
D: I feel most confident when I'm naked. *laughs*
A: I'd say, right after my morning coffee. Because at that point, I'd had a workout in, I'm ready to go to work and I have a cup of coffee and that's when my day's ready. At that point I would have accomplished a lot already and now I'm just ready to do the rest and I feel like nothing can get in the way of that.
D: I think one of the reasons why we work so well together is because we're such total opposites. Andrew's day is complete by like 9am. My day starts at 9pm. Once I have everything out of the way, like, I'm going to the gym at 9pm. When I get back from the gym, then I'm in the zone. I'm working when everyone else is asleep.
And my final question, what do you want to be when you grow up?
D: I have a lot of childhood trauma going on with this question.
A: When I was in the first grade, and they asked this question, I said a firetruck. *laughs*
D: You ARE a firetruck!
A: So I'm still holding on to that one! I feel confident I'm going to be a firetruck someday!
D: I wanted to be a fighter pilot when I was a kid and then I found out that I was too tall and that I didn't have good enough vision.
A: So he got a drone instead.
D: Ummmm...what do I want to be when I grow up? I want to just be able to do what I want all day and make value out of that. I want to work from wherever I am. It doesn't matter what I'm doing as long as I'm doing something that I'm enjoying. If I'm accomplishing something then I'm enjoying it. That's what we're doing here, we're helping people have fun, feel good about themselves, turning beers, learn a skill. If there's a zombie invasion in Buffalo, we're set. Half the city knows how to throw an axe, we're good to go.
A: I think when I grow up I'd like to be in a position to create things. I just like the idea of making things. Whether it's being a business, building something, an adventure, just living. Like Dustin said, being able to do what he wants, just having value. Not being bound by the rigid constraints that exist from what we "believe" that life has to be and have it be what you want to make life.
D: Whatever your doing has to build value for other people. In order for someone to give you their money, it needs to be valuable to them. They need to want to give you what they earned in exchange for what you're creating. A lot of people say, "I want to do what makes me happy." but if no one else wants that, then you're gonna go broke. If other people want that, if you're doing something that actually adds value to people's lives, then great!
A: So I guess I would say, by that definition, I have grown up. Because I'm doing that and making something for people to do. I think just continuing down this path and, if it's bringing axe throwing to more people or do something else. We're helping people have experiences, have stories, and have memories.
D: Yeah, experiences are huge, especially here. Two of my favorite things I love to see are the energy all around here, and so may people walk through that door and tell me before they even book, "Oh, I'm just gonna watch. I'm not gonna be able to do it." Then they come in here and they see how much fun people are having and then are like okay, I have to try this. And then they get sucked in and they experience something that they never thought they would. It's so cool to see the humanity that happens in here.
A: Like, when was the last time you did something for the first time? And we get to give people that every weekend.
Thank you so much Dustin and Andrew for taking part in my crazy little interview series and for teaching me how to throw an axe! You can find Hatchets & Hops at 505 Main Street in Buffalo.