Business

Meet the man behind this popular bowling alley in Citrus Heights

Steve Cook's Fireside Lanes
Steve Cook has owned Fireside Lanes in Citrus Heights since 2014. // CH Sentinel

By Thomas J. Sullivan–
Citrus Heights bowlers have retired professional bowler Steve Cook to thank for keeping their beloved Fireside Lanes going strong at 7901 Auburn Blvd. In 2014, Cook stepped in to buy the 32-lane bowling center when he thought it might close.

“I bowled at Fireside Lanes when I was young. I saw the condition the center had deteriorated to. I felt if I didn’t come in to save it, it would have shut down,” Cook told The Sentinel in a recent phone interview.

The 6-foot 7-inch Cook, a retired left-handed, ten-pin bowler and member of the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) was inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in 1993. Today, his Steve Cook’s Fireside Lanes employs 35 to 40 people to manage the day-to-day operation of the lanes and operate the snack bar. Most of his regular business is based on league play.

“I’m honestly grateful to the people of Citrus Heights for their ongoing support,” Cook said.

The bowling center opened as Fireside Lanes in 1959. Now known as Steve Cook’s Fireside Lanes, the center is the sixth oldest continuing business in Citrus Heights, according to a “Top 20” oldest business list compiled by the city.

Related: Here’s the ‘Top 20’ oldest businesses in Citrus Heights

For decades, the bowling center had been a mainstay of the Citrus Heights and Sacramento area, providing quality entertainment to families, amateurs and professionals alike. “We made about $650,000 worth of much needed improvements including a new roof, upgraded bathrooms, new setters and new ball returns,” Cook said.

The center features a Pro Shop and a Hall of Fame Bar & Grill offering hot meals and snacks. A sports bar to watch sporting events is also a popular draw.

Cook, 62, won his first PBA title at the age of 21 and finished with 15 titles in his career. Among the titles were major championships at the 1981 PBA Tournament of Champions, the 1983 Touring Players Championship, and the 1986 U.S. Open (one of four total titles he earned in 1986 alone).

Cook is the brother-in-law of fellow PBA Hall of Fame bowler Mike Aulby. After retiring from competition, Cook developed his own bowling supply business with two locations, one in Sacramento and a second in Southern California, which serves the wholesale bowling industry by selling a complete line of bowling balls, bags, apparel and accessories.

Bowling remains the most popular participatory sport in the United States, with millions of people bowling each year. In the United States, the bowling industry currently generates about $6 billion in revenues annually.

Since he took ownership, Cook said overall business income at Fireside Lanes has been stable.

“We place a great emphasis on customer service,” he said, crediting his staff and on-site manager, Jack Thomas, for helping keep customers coming back for more.

So what’s ahead for the bowling alley?

“We want to spend our money on improvements wisely. I’m hoping in the future to make additional improvements and refresh the outside with new paint and redo the parking lot,” Cook said. He’s also pleased the city is working to revitalize Auburn Boulevard through a $20 million infrastructure project that will extend from Rusch Park to the Roseville border.

Looking to the future, he said the center has had a popular youth league through the years which continues to attract younger bowlers to the sport.

Related: New burger joint gets green light from city to build in front of Fireside Lanes

Cook describes his Fireside Lanes as having a “classic, gimmick-free” appeal, while some bowling centers are taking a more active entertainment center style approach. His preference, he said, is to “keep flash to a minimum, and concentrate on good customer service.”

Monday through Thursday Steve Cook’s Fireside Lanes offers dollar games from 3 to 6 p.m. and $3 shoe rental. On Fridays, dollar games are offered from 3 to 6:30 p.m. and shoe rental drops to just a buck.

The center offers all you can bowl Cosmic Bowling under the lights on Saturday evenings from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. for $15, including shoe rental. Karaoke is a popular attraction on Wednesday and Sunday evenings from 9 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

According to the bowling alley’s website, the best times for open play bowling during the day is Monday through Friday from 3-5:30 p.m. Other times are also posted online, but the center notes that open play lanes may not be available during league play and are subject to a waiting list.

General hours of operation for Steve Cook’s Fireside Lanes are Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.

“We’re in Citrus Heights to stay. We’re doing our best to keep the center very family friendly,” Cook said.

Those interested in learning more about Steve Cook’s Fireside Lanes can visit www.stevecooksfiresidelanes.com, or call (916) 725-2101 for more information.

Want to read more local stories like this? Help support The Sentinel’s coverage of local news by becoming a monthly subscriber: click here for subscription options.