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Wayward Social reshaping bowling in Marshalltown

Contributed photo Aaron and Michele Buzbee renovated everything from the infrastructure to the lanes to a fresh dining menu at Wayward Social.

Marshalltown was about to be left without a bowling alley in October 2016 when Totem Bowl announced it was going to close.

Less than four years later, bowling in Marshalltown is in good shape again with Wayward Social — and Aaron and Michele Buzbee are the reason why.

Young entrepreneurs with histories in the food and beverage industries, Aaron and Michele knew nothing about running a bowling alley when they purchased Totem Bowl weeks before its doors would have closed for good. The Buzbees weren’t big bowlers, but they said they didn’t want Marshalltown to lose its only bowling location — because in a town of Marshalltown’s size and stature, they felt bowling wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon if they let it close.

“That kind of sprung us into action,” Aaron said. “Definitely was not in our plans. So we actually waited as long as we could and spent a few months mulling it over.”

The first year was spent fact-finding, with the Buzbees learning how the industry worked, what bowling alleys were starting to do across the country and what running one entailed. They began to formulate ideas about what the new project would look like — realizing quickly they wanted to stand out and be different. They started by continuing to work with bowling machine company Brunswick and then got to work.

Contributed photo Wayward Social is home to arcade Alien Alley featuring 17 games.

One thing they wanted to include right away was a bar. Named Rosie’s, the bar doubles as a private rental space when corporate events are booked, as well as wedding dinner rehearsals and other events. The space also hides a 95-inch projector screen, which is used for everything from Power-points of sales figures to the night’s biggest sporting event.

“[Brunswick] was pretty stoked that we were food and beverage people and not bowling people,” Michele said. “We were able to bring a different dynamic and a different perspective to what this place could be.”

The renovation process has taken more than 18 months, largely because the couple wanted to keep the building operational during the changes. Aaron said keeping leagues open was important to them, so there was continuity and they didn’t have to take a year off – but they wanted people to see the tangible progress made with the facility. Closing would have made it go faster, but the excitement created by keeping the doors open was worth it, they said.

Wayward is also the home of Marshalltown High School’s bowling teams, something Aaron related to as a soccer player for the Bobcats in high school.

Little by little, things got done — a new kitchen; a sectioned-off “private alley” of six lanes to go along with the rental space and a Rosie’s bar; Alien Alley, an arcade space with 17 different games ranging from a Walking Dead game to Crossy Road; a dynamic menu, with vegetarian and vegan options and a New York style pizza place featuring a homemade recipe and help from operating partners Garrett and Dani Goodman, the owners of the Flying Elbow.

contributed photo Buzbees also added a new rental space venue and full-service bar called Rosie’s.

Their vision was coming together, and people outside of Marshalltown were taking notice.

In February 2019, Brunswick awarded the couple with a “Crystal Pin.” The Pin is awarded for excellence in the industry. Brunswick higher-ups flew out to Marshalltown to get a tour of the facility and present the trophy to Aaron and Michele, who were ecstatic their renovation was taking off. In less than three years, the Buzbees had gone from visiting Brunswick bowling alleys to get new ideas, to hosting other bowling alley owners looking for ideas.

“They said they’ve never seen a remodel like this,” Aaron said. “They were very complimentary.”

The Marshalltown community has been overwhelmingly positive, they said. Michele said it’s been a good surprise, since change can be difficult for some people and the old-school bowling alley of Totem Bowl was part of Marshalltown for more than 50 years.

With the success of the facility so far and plans to add more in the future, the owners of Wayward Social want to make a mark in Marshalltown.

T-R photo by Noah Rohlfing Wayward Social owners Michele and Aaron Buzbee.

“The reason we picked Wayward Social as the name is the definition of ‘wayward’ is deviant, from the norm,” Aaron said. “When you come in here, you go, ‘This isn’t your normal bowling alley,’ and that’s the response we want to incur in people.”

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Contact Noah Rohlfing at 641-753-6611 or nrohlfing@timesrepublican.com.

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