LATHAM — You can expect to see many things at a Gastropub like Innovo Kitchen — stylish decor, a nice bar, hungry patrons. But it’s not often that a restaurant’s bar is made from wood from a former bowling alley. And it’s probably even less often that a lone bowling pin is on display at the hostess station.
The pin — with the number 299 written on it —is certainly a special bowling pin.
And the story behind the pin makes the listener wonder about topics like fate, coincidence and luck.
The story, involving Innovo’s owner Tina Kruger and her father, goes back to a bowling show in the 1960s called “TV Tournament Time.”
Kruger’s dad was a professional baseball player. He played for the White Sox “back in the day when baseball players didn’t make the money that they do now,” said Tina.
Mary, her mother, started to talk with Kruger’s father, Frank Colabello, about settling down to have a family which would require retiring from baseball.
So he stopped playing baseball and started bowling. An athletic man, he wanted to participate in the “TV Tournament Time” bowling show and he went to the Bowlers Club on Route 7 in Latham to qualify.
Picture, if you would, bowling alleys that are not oiled and did not offer a multitude of types and sizes of bowling balls. These were different times. While nowadays it’s not unusual to see someone get multiple strikes or even have a 300 game, it was a different story in the 1960s.
Now enter former White Sox player, young father and motivated athlete, Frank Colabello.
Kruger, who was only about 6 years old at the time, still vividly recalls that day. Her father was getting strike after strike. Frist frame — strike. Second frame — strike. He was going for the perfect game.
It was around the ninth frame when the entire Bowlers Club — a huge establishment of about 50 alleys — stopped bowling and all started paying attention to this “little Italian guy,” said Kruger.
Ninth frame – strike…
It was the tenth frame at the Bowlers Club. All eyes were on Tina’s father who she described as someone who didn’t have a lot of showmanship. He wasn’t a large man and he was not used to commanding a crowd of bowlers.
But he wanted to bowl the perfect game. He wanted to qualify for the TV tournament which would mean the chance of prize money to help with the building of his young family’s new house in Gloversville.
He throws his last ball. He’s on his knees. He thinks he has it.
Almost all of the pins drop. The 10 pin wobbles … but it doesn’t fall.
The alley ends up giving him the pin and they write “299” on it.
Kruger’s father qualifies for the tournament. Her parents make a deal with each other that if he wins the tournament, they will use the money for a stone fireplace that Kruger’s mother had been dreaming about adding to their new house.
As it turns out, he wins the $1,500.
“That felt like such a lot of money back then,” said Kruger, noting that her mom got her fireplace and the family got their home.
While he didn’t get the perfect game in those instances, he did eventually go on to bowl a 300.
It was about a decade ago that Kruger’s father passed away and she was helping to move her mom out.
Kruger, who still has fond memories of the Bowlers Club qualifiers, asked about the “299” pin which had been locked in a closet in the family’s house.
So, with no immediate plans for the pin, Kruger took it as a memento of her father and that day.
A few years later, Kruger was at a turning point where she was closing the doors on an establishment she had owned for about eight years.
Developer Richard Rosetti knew Tina’s business and life partner, John LaPosta, and reached out to John. At that time, Tina had no interest in any more restaurant ventures and was not interested to hear Rosetti’s proposal. In fact, she was so disenchanted with the restaurant industry, she didn’t even pass along Rosetti’s first message that he left at their establishment, Maestro’s in Saratoga Springs.
Kruger was not at all initially interested in the space and passed on doing a tour. But John, now Innovo’s executive chef and general manager, went to check the space out.
“John came back and he says, ‘I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but the space used to be the Bowlers Club,’” Kruger said.
As she informed LaPosta, she was very familiar with the space and, because of this interesting coincidence, she was now very interested in the site. She said she was “intrigued” after she realized where the restaurant space was.
“I felt it was a message from my father at a very difficult time in my life,” Kruger said. “It was at that point that I knew it was meant to be.”
She described how they were one of the first establishments in the plaza (and the entire plaza used to be the Bowlers Club). The Galleria 7 Market hadn’t opened yet. The Morgan Stanley building hadn’t been erected yet.
As it turned out, the developer had kept many of the bowling alleys with the intention of using them for tables and a bar.
The restaurant, which employs nearly 50 people, can seat 240 total people (under normal circumstances) and has a patio that seats 60.
Innovo got its name from wanting to create a new Innovative menu. “This restaurant was all about renewing our love for the restaurant business and returning to everything we lost sight of in our previous venture,” said Kruger.
The site has a lot of local history and personal history. The Bowlers Club was the first alley with automatic scoring. Thousands of people bowled there over the years. And Kruger and her family have their own memories from the place. Kruer, who describes herself as being “not a very good bowler,” lives nearby in Niskayuna. She said she eventually plans to end her restaurant career at the site.
She said they still get people who come in and think they know exactly which alley a table is made from due to the unique wood, grooves, and color.
And Kruger’s family history is displayed front and center with the “299” pin in a case with a note at the hostess station.
Unlike many local restaurants, Innovo has not been impacted too severely by the pandemic. They took the challenge and created innovative take-out meals that became popular from the start of quarantine. They also added their own delivery which continues to be popular.
“It’s kinda symbolic,” she reflected. “The pin is like us — wobbled but never fell.”
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