Gaz Ismail, the founder of Zap Zone fun centers, has been purchasing plots of land in Pittsfield Township since 1999.
And now, something BIG is coming.
That’s the tagline being used by Ismail’s new 74,000-square-foot entertainment center that is almost fully open in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor area. Best in Games brings a variety of experiences: a glow golf selfie museum, indoor go-karting, a ninja warrior course, a drop tower, axe throwing, football bowling, trampolines, bumper cars, virtual reality, laser tag and more than 125 arcade games.
Ismail wants the entertainment space, located at 4095 Carpenter Road, to be an immersive experience for children, teenagers and adults. He wants to see corporate parties and bonding taking place, but also birthday parties and everyday fun.
“I was working on something that could fulfill everybody,” said Ismail, 51 of Novi. “So it was very difficult to put together. And everyone told me you cannot entertain adults and kids in the same place.”
But he made it happen. The large game room separates people in the restaurants from those using the rides and ninja warrior course. Ismail also took some inspiration from casinos, where the aisles have 7-foot walking gaps. And the third floor, which holds the go-karting, football bowling and a bar, feels like a different building.
The experiences start outdoors, where there will be fire pits lining the patio. When walking into the space on the first floor, you’ll see a restaurant surrounded by several big-screen TVs and several activities on each floor that can fill a whole day.
The menu at Rocko’s Bar and Grill includes pasta and steak entrees, hamburgers, sandwiches, salads and vegetarian options. The other bars are Candy Club Bar and Pit Bar.
The third floor, which is fully operational, includes the indoor go-karting, classic arcade games and football bowling. The rest of the space will be opening near the end of the month.
Ismail said, “It’s relaxing — nice sound music, you’re people watching, got a lot of room, you got a bar there if you want to drink.” The relaxing feeling occurs until you’re wearing a helmet and driving 45 mph in a go-kart.
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The entertainment center will replace the Zap Zone on Carpenter Road and has one of the first laser tag spaces with an open window where you can be on the first floor and see people play the game. The laser tag is part of the area where visitors can access more than over 10 activities at $39 for two hours. Ismail said it was important to keep the affordability of laser tag, which is typically $9 a game, but add more experiences to the price.
Ismail can come up with a major project idea and see it to fruition, sometimes within two weeks. And he always says, “Go big or go home.”
He came up with the concept called “golfie,” which is the combination of an immersive selfie museum and putt putt golf with 18 holes and 20 photo opportunities. While putt putting, you can sit on a replica of “The Simpson’s” set, walk through “Alice in Wonderland,” say hello to “SpongeBob” and see what a Candy Land world looks like.
The go-karting track is inside. With the use of electric go-karts and a ventilation system, the company was able to create a safe indoor option for the track.
Becoming the next big thing
Ismail is from Canada. When he moved to Michigan, he opened his first Zap Zone in Canton, and later expanded to Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Brighton, Farmington, Lansing, Taylor, Sterling Heights, Waterford and Windsor. He’s also the owner of Bonaventure Skating Center in Farmington Hills, Rollerama in Brighton, Escape Room-Zone, which has five locations, and Azra Chamber of Horrors in Madison Heights.
When he bought his first plot of land where the entertainment center is now located, he intended to build something. But there wasn’t enough space. As the years went by, he continued to purchase land.
“I didn’t realize how expensive it would be to build (from) the ground up,” Ismail said. “As I would keep obtaining land, I would build the Zap Zones bigger and better. … It took my 30 years of experience building Zap Zones through the years to build this magnitude of nuclear unbelievable fun.”
Pittsfield Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal has been working for 14 years to make community-centric spaces focusing on people, which she calls “the heartbeat of the county.”
“We created mixed-use-based districts about 10 years ago to provide for these destination spots where folks would come and recreate through parks or different forms of engagement,” Grewal said.
“I think what Gaz is doing is very representative of creating a community-centric space,” said Grewal, “which is centrally located for folks to get to, from not just all around Washtenaw County, but really the region, and come together to enjoy each other and promote a positive vibe.”
Grewal said Ismail has been having conversations about his ideas for about seven years.
The design process started in 2017. The groundbreaking happened in 2019. Now, the space can hold about 1,000 people. With the addition of Best In Games, he is expecting to bring about 150 jobs to the area, full- and part-time positions such as customer service, attraction operations, bartenders, sales, waitstaff and hosts.
“I feel like not only is this new adventure by Gaz (adding) more jobs, but (it is adding) the type of jobs, which are so valuable to the working class, the front line worker jobs; we can add to the diversity of the jobs that we can support here in our community,” Grewal said.
Ismail said, “With the right people behind me, if I want to do it, we could become national because it’s got the national vibe. Right now I’m just gonna take it in and enjoy this place.”