Dwayne and Ellen Fowler are opening The 808 Club to answer the teenagers’ plaint that “there is nothing to do” around here. The couple hopes their music, game, and dance club will draw junior high and high school students from across the hill country. Photo by Phil Houseal
If it’s too loud, you’re too old
by Phil Houseal
If being in a fog-shrouded 7800-square-foot metal building with 200 teenagers dancing to foundation-pounding hip hop music under pulsing laser lights does not seem like the ideal way to spend a Friday evening, then chances are you are over 25. Dwayne and Ellen Fowler are hoping it sounds like heaven for hill country teenagers.
The Fowlers are putting their sweat and equity into The 808 Club, a new teen hangout located in the former Cedarberries on Highway 16 just north of IH-10.
They are on a mission to purge the phrase “there is nothing to do” - that ageless lament of 13 to 19 year olds everywhere.
“You and everybody else has heard that forever,” said Dwayne Fowler, an independent fitness trainer. “We have two teenage kids now so we hear it even more.”
Those kids - Kelsey, 13, and Dalton, 15 - also gave them some incentive.
“Our daughter really pushed us,” Ellen said. “We were talking about how we need this in the hill country, and she kept saying, ‘Why don’t we do it, why don’t we just do it?’”
The Fowlers did a little research and discovered there are around 8000 kids around the hill country in that age range. “We figured instead of complaining, we’d do something about it.”
Their children were also their focus group. “The first thing they said was you have got to let us listen to our music, and you have to let us dance the way we want.”
The Fowlers have incorporated those ideas into their vision for The 808 Club. But first, they had to create the right atmosphere. They stripped down the former club, repainted and repaired, then installed a robust sound system, foosball, air hockey, and pool tables. A separate party room and bar will accommodate private parties. They worked hard to get it open before school let out, to help spread the word better.
The Fowlers have channeled their inner child to put together a place where teens want to be. First rule - no parents allowed.
That’s not as radical as it may first sound.
“Kids just don’t act the same when their parents are around,” Ellen noted. “We have ‘parent moms’ coming out our ears. That is great for their support, but kids don’t want them here. We are drawing the line between a school dance/chaperone type event versus a place to relax and be a kid.”
They will instead employ paid security to keep order. The Fowlers have taken great care to assure parents that this will be a safe environment.
Everyone will enter through a metal detector. They will enforce a dress code plus zero tolerance of drugs and alcohol. Kids are separated by age - junior high on Friday nights; high school on Saturday nights. Once in, students will not be able to leave and reenter. Once out, they must leave the premises - no loitering.
They have even designed the interior and stationed staff at sight lines to make sure there are no hidden corners.
Parents are welcome before 8 o’clock, and staff will give escorted tours on a parent’s first visit. But after 8, it is kids only.
The Fowlers acknowledge there are other organizations that offer programs for teens.
“We wanted to provide something that didn’t have an agenda, a place for kids to come and be themselves, listen to music they want to hear, be safe, and not have parents worry about them,” Ellen said. “It’s something we’d like to do for kids and something we believe in.”
The couple consciously are choosing to run The 808 Club as a business.
“We want the community involved and to support us,” Ellen said. “But there is a very fine line between letting kids do what they want and letting kids get in trouble. With our experience, we can see that kids need to be kids. We let kids be what they want.”
As with any idea, there are naysayers. But Ellen also hears from eager parents.“I got a quote from someone I went to high school with,” Ellen said. “She has a stepdaughter and has been so concerned there is nothing safe to do. She is so excited about The 808 Club that she wrote she is already worrying less.”