By Ginger DeShaney

John Tunney

The atmosphere was electric. The smiles were huge; the laughs were hearty; and friends were thrilled to be together — safely, of course. 

“It’s a great place. People are engaging,” owner John Tunney said about Southie Bowl. ”No one is on their phones. Everyone who is here wants to have fun. You can’t have a bad time here.” 

Southie Bowl “is the soul of what we all love about South Boston,” John said. “I hope to bring the community back together after this traumatic event and collectively move forward.”

When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, Southie Bowl shut down until September. But when gyms and recreation facilities had to cut back in December, the lanes shut down again, which was especially hard for John because he had no work for his employees right before the holidays.

The candlepin bowling alley at 543 E. Broadway reopened again on Feb. 1, allowing people “to forget about what’s going on,” at least for a little while. 

“As long as everyone is responsible, it’s a great place to have fun,” John said. “People always have fun here.”

John has had many customers, including women in their 70s and 80s, tell him they’ve missed him and the lanes during the shutdowns. “And we missed them being here,” he said.

“It’s a special place,” said John, noting the leagues have come back strong. “We are a neighborhood place where the community has gathered for 60 years. Candlepin is so much fun, for people from 5 years old to 90 years old. It’s something for everyone to do.”

John, who bought Southie Bowl and Java House from his parents, Brion and Kaye Tunney, in January, has been involved with the business for about 10 years, starting out by cleaning floors and fixing tiles to working with customers and managing the leagues. He and his now-wife, Rebecca, even started a Monday night league.

At the same time, he was also employed in finance and IT, spending his days working downtown and then hitting the lanes at night, racking up 14-16-hour workdays. 

Working in Corporate America taught him a lot, including what he didn’t want. “The corporate ladder wasn’t for me,” he said. So, he turned his side hustle into a full-time gig.

It was an easy decision when John and Rebecca weighed it out. “Once the decision was made, it was super easy to hop right into it,” he said.

John, who lives in South Boston, uses his finance/IT background to make changes at the lanes. He brought in a new system. “We were using old-school cash registers,” he said. He instituted an online reservation system. He brought in craft beers. He took down a wall to the “party room” to open up the space. He took out the arcade games because “it wasn’t the vibe.”

He’s currently in culinary school now to help grow the food side of both businesses.

His dad continues to be involved. “It’s a total team effort,” John said, noting he continues to learn from his parents as the business continues to grow. “It’s been a lot of fun.

“I’m learning different things I can do to help the business be successful.”

Southie Bowl was having its best year ever before COVID hit, John said.

It was hosting corporate events, birthday parties, its annual New Year’s Eve party, bowling leagues for all ages, fundraisers, and charity events. “You bring people to the bowling alley and have a great time,” he said.

“Whoever you are, when you come here, it’s a universal experience.

“We help people have the best time.”


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