Pickleball concept businesses are taking off in the Chicago area

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CHICAGO (CBS) — By now, you have heard about the explosive popularity of pickleball – it’s so popular now that real estate developers and investors in the Chicago area are creating businesses around the addictive sport.

CBS 2’s Marie Saavedra had a look at three of them – one that has been around a year and a half, one that has just opened, and one that is being built right now.

“The game itself is fantastic,” said Seymour Rifkin, president of the World Pickleball Federation. “It’s a combination of slow, steady, patient strategy – and all of a sudden, just like that: ‘Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!’ It’s easy to learn. People that have never played a sport in their life can get out and have fun in five minutes because they’re hitting the ball back and forth.”

In addition to being president of the World Pickleball Federation, Rifkin is an investor in Pickle Haus – a new pickleball restaurant in Algonquin, complete with a full kitchen and bar.

“What I love most about pickleball is that it brings families together,” Rifkin said. “So what better place for families to come to?”

“In terms of an indoor pickle facility with a heavy food and beverage program, this is the first of its kind in Chicago,” said Pickle Haus cofounder Graham Palmer. “We see ourselves as a restaurant/bar that happens to have pickleball as our sport.”

Pickle Haus just opened last month. It took developers a year to go from idea to reality.

The founders created it after a gym that was supposed to move in did not do so.

“As were looking at different things to do with this building, as a real estate developer, I started looking into different concepts,” Palmer said, “and one of the things I noticed with pickleball – especially indoors – is you needed certain column heights; you needed certain ceiling heights. And quickly, we realized that we had those.”

Meanwhile, Rich Green is building his own pickleball concept in Lincoln Park. SPF – which stands for Social Pickleball Fun – will have nine courts, a coffee shop, and eventually, a full restaurant.

“You know, the reason, really, to center something around pickleball is because it’s a sport that appeals to everyone,” Green said. “Whether I’m playing with my son who’s 10, or his grandfather – my father – you know, we can all go out and have a great time.”

The courts at SPF, 2121 N. Clybourn Ave., are scheduled to open next month – with more attractions to come in 2024.

The School House on the Near North Side opened about a year and a half ago. The converted school building, at 1065 N. Orleans St., has pickleball courts, a bar and restaurant, and a furniture store all under the same roof.

But the concept is the same – pairing an addictive, popular sport with places to spend time with the people you love.

“People can go there for lunch – after or before they play – and as long as they have a bar, everyone will come,” said Pickleball player Cathy Hofmann.

“It’s different, but it’s awesome,” said pickleball player Nico Acevedo.

“It was an opportunity to bring a lot of people together, and with a lot of people together,” said Green, “and if you do a lot of good things around it, yeah, there’s good business behind that.”

Pickleball restaurants might be recent additions to the Chicago area, but other cities have had them for years.

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