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Chicken N Pickle Investing Ahead of Explosive Pickleball Growth!

Last updated on October 3rd, 2023 at 03:44 am

Simply Pickleball Podcast Interview with Chicken N Pickle Exec: Matt Besler

What is Chicken N Pickle, and why is it growing like crazy? We go behind the scenes with Matt Besler, retired soccer pro and Chicken N Pickle executive. Matt shares his incredible story and looks into how he transitioned from pro soccer to business! 

We look at Matt’s journey and discover what it takes to become an elite athlete and a successful business leader. Plus, see why Matt joined the team at Chicken N Pickle – the incredible venue with a restaurant and a sports bar with excellent pickleball courts! 




welcome to Simply pickleball the podcast where we discuss all things pickleball


the fastest growing sport in America and around the world we’re interviewing the founders industry leaders athletes


lovers of the sport that are driving the spectacular growth if you love pickleball as much as we do listen in


Crystal Brown your host and we get a chance today to speak with Matt Besler who is the former major league soccer


player and now has joined a leadership team at chicken and pickle we get to


hear about the future of that company his path to becoming a pickleball player and hanging up his cleats so now to the


show [Music] soccer will always be part of my life


but I’m looking forward to the next adventure [Applause] [Music] to the next challenge


into my next team [Music]


pumped to officially be a part of the chicken and pickle team let’s get back to work stay tuned




thank you Matt Besler I’m so excited to have the


time to sit down with you and talk about all things pickleball which I love but before we get started on that I just


wanted to hear a little bit more about you your background your story and and in particular you’ve been an athlete


your whole life so did you grow up with a soccer ball you know in your hands from Age Two or what was it like thanks

Matt Besler Early Days


for having me on I’m really excited to share you know my story and share a little bit about the pickleball World from what I can remember with the ball


on my hand at all times I was one of those I guess stereotypical boys who who


just loved running around and kicking balls and throwing everything my parents signed me up for I guess organized


Sports at a very young age if you want to call it that but as young as I could remember four years old five years old I


started playing sports specifically I started playing soccer at that age too and they didn’t really know much about


the game but it was sort of the popular thing to sign your kid up for in the area that I was living at at the time in


Overland Park Kansas us and I guess the rest is history but yeah I started playing soccer when I was four five I


played a bunch of other sports growing up as a kid times were different back then I’m gonna sound old you didn’t


really have to specify or um specialize in a sport at such a young age and so I


loved that I got to kind of play soccer in the fall and basketball in the winter and baseball in the summer and there was


not really pressure to focus on one sport I didn’t necessarily focus on


soccer until my junior or senior year of high school that is when I told myself that I wanted to earn a college


scholarship to play soccer in college and so I set out to do that played at


the University of Notre Dame for four years played college soccer I got drafted into Major League Soccer by


Sporting Kansas City which ended up being my hometown team I’m from Kansas City I played 12 professional Seasons


with them and then finished my career for one season down in Austin Texas I’ve been retired from playing soccer for


about a year and a half so when you were in college did you did you have your site set on playing professionally or


were you just enjoying college and or did you kind of know that was where you were headed it’s easy for me to say now


that like oh yeah of course I knew but I didn’t uh I went to college again to you


know on a college scholarship to get an education to get the experience of playing a sport in college anything


above that was was sort of a cherry on top realized with the help of my college coach he sort of pulled me aside one

Pro Soccer Player


summer in between my sophomore and junior year he said I don’t know if you realize this but if you continue


progressing the way you are I think you’re going to have a really good chance at playing professionally and that’s sort of when my eyes lit up said


really okay like let’s let’s go after it I mean but but honestly were you really surprised I mean I’m curious because you


know I National athletes and and they’ve all had really interesting paths together but did you kind of know inside like I


think I’m pretty good or did you really need that sort of external validation like I think I can do this you’re


probably right I think I was confident in the the abilities that I had but I also I don’t know I was sort of


protective and and scared to maybe admit that I I wanted to sort of be like well


you know maybe if it works out and you know I really want to focus on my education and that was maybe my defense


mechanism versus some of my other teammates that came in you know saying


like oh I’m going pro or bust you know like I’m going to be the next professional and this is why I’m here


um I I guess I was never like that you know when when you were playing as a pro were you feeling like this like how did


you see that career going in terms of like were you feeling like you were giving up on other parts of your life or


were you just enjoying the ride and loving being part of a team like that and getting to go to the World Cup


things like that not not very many yeah to do yeah so that’s that’s another great question so just to like rewind a


little bit I do remember that period of my life was very challenging because uh


like my senior year of of college and sort of my first entry into the professional game because I was trying


to balance what felt like two different lives you know a lot of my peers and my


friends uh were you know doing internships and applying for jobs and


working on their resumes and I sort of felt like I was focusing on becoming a professional soccer player and I was


getting left behind and it was like well what if I don’t make it I’m not going to have that internship and I’m gonna be


you know just behind and it was very stressful for me and finally I remember luckily reaching out and I had a great


conversation with my parents who were who were helped Mentor me through this process and they kind of just told me


they go Matt you’ve loved Sports your entire life and you even if you have a


percentage of one percent uh a chance to go and play a professional sport why


wouldn’t you just fully commit to that you can always go back and get that job or finish your degree or apply for


medical school or whatever it is you want to do there’s not many people that get that chance and so maybe I just


needed their sort of nudge and their approval but once they told me that um


it was like the light bulbs went off and I all of a sudden just like Dove all in


but even after I got drafted first couple years in the league I was kind of just viewing it as if this works out


great you know if it doesn’t then I will have played for a couple years I don’t think I realized that I was making a


career out of professional soccer until about my fifth or sixth season in the league wow that’s so interesting and


great for your to to free you up from feeling any kind of


Burden like maybe you’re taking the wrong path and it’s true it’s a really unique opportunity that not very many


people get speaking of that though you do have a sibling that or at least you have two siblings right and one of them


is also was a professional or is a professional soccer player so were you guys look at you


what were you guys sort of competitive growing up doing your research I love it well you know I like to know I’m talking


to and um but just just you know I have three daughters you have three kids um you

Competitive family


know what was it what were you guys competitive as kids and and were they you know your biggest supporters once you were in the league and you know how


does that relationship been since then yeah so I’m the oldest I’ve got I’ve got two younger brothers so we had three


boys in our family we were all super competitive with each other with everybody yeah we would everybody but


mostly with each other and you know holes in the walls and throwing golf clubs at each other and ditches and all


of those things um there’s some some great stories you know we’re all three years apart so my


youngest brother is six years younger than I am his name is Nick and he went on to become a professional soccer


player as well six years is a lot that’s that’s a pretty big gap and so when we were growing up he was the baby brother


I never really competed against him or with him just because he was so much younger than I was and then we have a


middle brother Mike who’s exactly in between us he was a great athlete he didn’t play soccer in high school but he


was a really good football and basketball player so that was really fun for us to kind of get away from the soccer and just see a different sport


and he had some some incredible accomplishments as well but I did get to


play against Nick my youngest brother a couple times towards the end of my career and it was it was just weird


um I’m sure it was bizarre for my parents too you know in the stands and they had one of those like split jerseys


where they had half was my jersey half was Nick’s Jersey so I know it was a lot that’s so cool yeah that’s gotta be


amazing as a parent and now you’re a parent to watch your kids and and see them compete sort of back to that I


think you have to have a competitive spirit and and a drive and commitment to be a professional athlete and I think


that kind of discipline translates to business too and and so it was probably really good for you so tell me about the


sort of ending your your stint there I would say it’s not ending your career but when you decided to leave the league


and maybe transition to some other things what helped you steer that decision yeah so I was I retired from

Retirement from Professional Soccer


playing soccer just before my 35th birthday I know I look young but I’m I’m 36 years old I played for as long as I


could and that’s just the reality of it I could have maybe played for another year or two but I was definitely at the


end of my threshold in terms of my mentality my mental side and my physical


side my body started breaking down so that was why I stopped playing that’s why I retired it was just that my body


couldn’t keep up anymore to be honest with you my plan all along was I kind of built it up in my head that I’m gonna be


done Twain I’m gonna take a full year off you know just to like chill out to


relax maybe like play some golf you know the stories that like all these athletes you hear about and I’m just gonna take


my time I’m not going to dive into anything and so that’s kind of what I built up in my head the last couple years of my career did that for a couple


months it was really nice just to turn it off and mentally it just it was very


freeing and there was a lot less stress which was which was really nice but my body ended up recovering a lot


quicker than I thought it was going to because I didn’t have those stresses yeah and about two or three months in I

Starts Chicken N Pickle Career


started getting the itch to you know do something rewarding or competitive or


um engaging and so I went out to lunch with a guy named Dave Johnson he was the


owner of chicken and pickle and the founder of chicken and pickle it’s a guy that I knew a couple times from


previously previous engagements I did some charity stuff with him uh when I used to play soccer and I thought I was


going out to eat lunch I said you know what this is it’s a it’s a good networking opportunity just to catch up


with them you know maybe I’ll use it down the road and I sat down and it like quickly went from zero to a hundred like


right away and that’s like that’s his personality and it turned into like a job interview you know I don’t care that


you don’t know anything about this business or pickleball or whatever I


know you as a person I know you’re competitive I know you’re a former athlete like I just want want to hire


good people and I can teach you everything you need to know so he’s like what do you say I’m like uh long story


long um I I thought about it I talked about it with my wife and I go you know what this is this sounds crazy but the more I


think about it I think it could be a really uh unique invaluable opportunity for me definitely not something that I


thought I was going to be doing at any point in my life working for a pickleball company I’m really glad that


I took the chance so I I called him back I said you know what I I think I will I’m going to join with you and that was


about a a year and a half ago so you knew him you guys had done workburn just


crossed paths in their charity life which is awesome but you must have thought that he was a good person to


that he also was competitive in business and had a good sense did you kind of know that he had a career path that you


wanted to I want to say sort of jump on his his bandwagon if you felt like confident to put your reputation and


your career um and your life Journey onto what he had already put together yeah I mean he

Chicken N Pickle CEO Dave Johnson


he has a reputation around Kansas City where I live as a successful business


person and so his background is in real estate he’s been doing that for a number of years and so uh yeah I I knew about


him um the other person that I want to just mention is her name is Kelly Aldridge Kelly Aldridge is currently the


president of chicken and pickle and she is my my direct boss and who I work very


closely with she was a major factor uh maybe if not more than Dave was


in my decision to join Chicken N Pickle She’s an incredible uh leader her


passion and energy for anything that she does specifically Chicken N Pickle is contagious and so I kind of saw that


opportunity too to learn from from her the way that she sees things um for just


like the personal development side and that really helped me make the decision too so you hadn’t played pickleball


though before you started I played pickleball one time time it was in Middle School PE class it was a unit


that we did for a couple weeks is all but uh yeah up until then I had not played uh any pickleball and how about


now hey guys are you playing pretty often gosh not as much as I want to


which I think is probably a popular answer for a lot of people I when I first started with Chicken N Pickle I


felt like I played quite a bit because I was uh I really wanted to learn the game and the rules and get a feel for it and


at least get myself to a level that was respectable because I knew I was going to put my nap Easler now gosh honestly


the last six months I it’s it’s a very busy time at the company um and I don’t get to play as much as


maybe people would think or definitely not as much as I want to yeah I think you’re right everyone nobody is playing


as much as they want I don’t think even the pros okay so let’s let’s transition into

What is Chicken N Pickle?


Chicken N Pickle what you know the the company is is building a name first of all there are Never Enough courts


anywhere for anyone to play so that solves one of the problems um but how did they get started and and


you know where are they now what’s the vision love to hear about sort of what they’re doing and what they’re bringing and then we can maybe get into some of


the community involvement yeah so it started uh almost eight years ago and it was uh the idea of our founder


um and owner Dave Johnson who I had talked about before he took a trip out to Phoenix in Arizona to visit some of


his best friends and uh they went out and played pickleball you’ve never heard


of it before you’ve never seen it and he was just mesmerized by the fact that it


was a social game within two hours he had met and played with over 20 different people and he had engaged with


them and everybody was having fun it was active but it wasn’t like anything crazy on his body and after he finished


playing that first time he goes oh my God thing I’ve got to bring this this Sport and this concept and this idea


back to Kansas City the name Chicken N Pickle uh the chicken part comes from


the inspiration um Dave used to or still does vacation down in the Cayman Islands


his favorite restaurant down in the Cayman Islands is a place called chicken chicken it uh features like Caribbean


you know rotisserie and so he’s like that combining it with pickleball oh yeah so we’re eight years in the


original location opened in North Kansas City that’s where Dave Shrum we now currently have eight locations that are


open and operating we’ve announced 14 total location I would say in the next two or three years we’re gonna grow


probably and open up at least five or six more I don’t know where it’s going to stop when it’s going to stop but I do


know that there’s a lot of excitement and we’re gonna be reaching a lot of new markets here in the next couple years

New Way to Learn Pickleball


what’s the sort of typical person who goes to Chicken N Pickle right like what who would you say your


typical customer is and I know in different cities it might be different but just curious yeah the interesting


thing um and this is coming from somebody that works in chicken and works that Chicken N Pickle it is a really hard place to


Describe because for one the name when you say chicken and pickle they’re like chicken and what like pickles oh what is


this and so you you describe the place and you say it’s this it’s this pickleball facility but it’s got a


restaurant built in it’s game yard it’s got beer gardens it’s got a rooftop it’s got to be amazing room it’s got ping


pong and you just on and on they’re like it’s just a hard concept to grasp but as


soon as you see it in person it’s incredible to watch people’s reactions because they go oh wow like okay I get


it now I can see why this is such a fun place to go to that is a tough question


because says and that’s also the beauty of Chicken N Pickle on any given day you can go onto the property and you can


see people that are there that play Pickleball five times a week or you


could see people that are there playing pickleball for the very first time and you can see people that are dressed out in athletic clothes and they’ve got


their their goggles and their wristbands and they’re ready to go and then you


also see people in business casual clothes that are taking their lunch break or they’re having a meeting and


they’re all hopping on the pickleball court you know and their dress clothes having fun so it’s it’s just a huge


spectrum of people which I think makes it uh very unique that’s great I mean I think


sort of describes how many different types of people play Pickleball to begin with but I mean do you think it’s it’s


the kind of place that um you know eventually you’ll have in every city and everyone will know what


it is that you know it brings together everyone in this a really special sport


that everyone can play but do you feel like this is the kind of place that everyone will know sort of like everyone will know about Starbucks and McDonald’s


and everyone’s going to know about Chicken N Pickle because it’s gonna be in every city


that’s a great question um and that’s probably a question that that’s more on our real estate side in


our business development I know that we are looking anywhere and everywhere and

Business Expansion


I can’t tell you how many times per day somebody asks like when are you coming to San Francisco no that’s where you’re


based out of when are you when are you going to California when are you going to Florida yeah and it’s like we’re


trying we yeah we’re actively looking um there’s just a lot that goes into deals a lot of these are real estate


plays and so there’s just a lot of factors they’re also big they’re big properties it takes a lot of land to


build a Chicken N Pickle and land is expensive so right


um how many quarts generally yeah does each one have like about how big is it you know I mean what can what else can


you do there there’s like do you say there’s 12 courts or yeah typically our models have 12 football courts but the

Pickleball Court Layout


the footprint is about three acres um so it’s a it’s a big property usually


six indoor courts um those are fully covered air conditioned and then there’s six outdoor


courts most of those are covered outdoor courts there’s some some of our properties that have four covered courts


and two uncovered courts so the covered courts would be you know just a big uh


metal awning that covers the court so you’re shaded but it’s open and so has


the breeze that goes through the game yard is a big turfed area that has a bunch of activities for people


it’s got the cornhole or bags or whatever people call it the life-size Jenga Battleship a bunch of other just


yard games and then we’ve got a kind of an indoor event space that you can open up the windows out to the open that has


you know foosball ping pong a bunch of couches big screen TVs it’s got a built-in bar there it sounds really fun


I want to go right now when I first heard about chicken people I think it was I was down in Las Vegas


and they mentioned that there was going to be one coming um you know and I I’m curious about you


guys mentioned sort of community involvement and which communities you’re going into and how do the founders and


and president you know what what’s their goal with where they’ve picked to be


um how they want to get involved with the community how they’re marketing it you know you know because like you said


you gotta kind of get the word out I know that’s a long question but any part of that’s curious about


the community is is really our heart and soul one of our our mottos at the

Local Communities


company is our hearts are local there’s a ton of stuff that happened with covet right but one of the things in our world


is that people people were searching and craving for a place to go where they


could connect and they could gather again and socially connect with people


and that is what we are built on at chicken and pickle you walk onto our


properties and people put their phones away in case people don’t know it’s hard to play Pickleball like when you’re


looking at your phone um so you can’t so you it’s a place that you go you just put your phone down for


an hour and you’re on the pickleball courts in your plane and you’re socializing and afterwards you know you


go grab a bite to eat or you get a drink or whatever the case is and it’s just really fun and you spend an hour or two


just almost disconnecting from the technology world and it’s something that


we’ve all missed and people have realized it like gosh you are we are all craving this this human interaction and


this Gathering space and so um I think you know some of it’s probably luck but really that’s that’s


kind of what Chicken N Pickle was was made off of um but specifically with the community organizations you know credit to Kelly


Aldridge our president um that is really one of her passions and and her vision and her passion is


what drives every everybody else in the company you know we just spend a lot of time focusing on how we can give back to


our local communities I I do think this emphasis on community and connection I


don’t you know I saw an article a few months ago said um Can pickleball save America and you know for some friends of


mine we play a lot and we’re like yes it can because it’s not about pickleball it’s about it’s a vehicle for this


connection and it’s a vehicle for community building that maybe we’ve been missing and you know companies like


Chicken N Pickle I think obviously it’s a business but it has like you said more of a heart and bringing together


people for a good purpose did you see the article about the like pickleball saved my marriage it was it was sort of


the same thing like base you know this couple they they were maybe having some some issues or


communication stuff and they started playing pickleball together and it literally like saved their marriage and


it’s to your point it’s all about the connection that pickleball gives you yeah and it’s interesting that it’s a sport right because you know you I was a


college athlete you’re you were much more than a college athlete professional athlete but uh for me it gave me purpose


and Direction and motivation and I had to apply all those things and funny enough later in life I feel like I’m


very competitive and pickleball I want to be good I want to get better I want to improve and I feel like for a lot of


people it gives them that same maybe they had it when they were younger maybe they didn’t but that kind of connection


into you know something to work for something to work each day and get better then it’s kind of fun when you


can go someplace and sort of play with your friends but feel like maybe they’re on their lunch break and everyone’s like


wow so-and-so’s really good no totally I think you’re spot on I I completely agree with you and the other thing too

Making Pickleball Accessible


is I think the entry level into pickleball is lower than other sports


which I think is a good thing um it’s it’s less intimidating where you know if you tell somebody to that’s


never play golf to go out and go on a golf course they’re going to be like no


I’m not gonna of fun it’s it’s too hard and I’m not going to enjoy myself I don’t I pickleball is the opposite of


that I think you’re right I think um tree below and we’ve been talking about that with some of the other


um interviews I’ve had in fact I was interviewing someone Wayne Dollard who who leads uh level up pickleball Camp by


the way he mentioned that soccer players make really good pickleball players he did he specifically said that and that’s


because your footwork so maybe this is your next career on the pro side but


ultimately that like you said golf or tennis or there’s a lot of sports that just are very intimidating and


pickleball is not intimidating and I think again back to chicken and pickle then when you have maybe a work event


and someone wants to you know bring their work friends together it’s not as intimidating as maybe you know a


foursome going to play golf and feeling excluded this is very inclusive um I’d imagine yeah no I I agree with


you and I think that’s some of the beauty of it it’s when you break it down it’s it’s kind of a simple concept it’s


it’s a a wooden paddle a plastic Wiffle


ball and you throw in some chicken and some beer and it’s like


that’s maybe what people need you know sometimes in this crazy world that we live in and it’s so fast but like let’s


slow down a little bit and simplify things and people really like to like to


do that yeah and it’s it’s just it’s it’s caught on like crazy so it’s been fun to watch so for you

Operating Chicken N Pickle


um what what things are you responsible for and what are you kind of working on for chicken and pickle next yeah so um


my title at chicken pickle is the director of strategic Partnerships we are we’ve established a partnership


team company-wide that focuses specifically on each location each location is different like we talked


about it’s everybody has a different you know heart and soul and each market is


different and we want to cater to those things because we want to be local as much as we can but the fun part about my


job is is we get to go out into these communities and figure out uh creative and unique ways to partner with


companies Brands individuals uh sports teams school districts colleges


universities you name it we get to figure out like how can how can we get involved with them how can they get


involved with us and um it’s it’s kind of like a puzzle that we put together of


you know this company wants to come out and have a company in the outing and this company wants to do a pickleball


league and this University wants us to come out and play Pickleball on their campus so there’s just there’s a lot of


different things that we can do and I honestly I wake up every morning and it’s just something different which I


love um it was challenging at first I’m not gonna lie it was a little crazy I was


like oh my gosh my head is spinning right now but uh I definitely I’ve gotten the hang of it I’ve settled in um


and I’m really enjoying myself and I’m learning a lot that’s like the biggest thing too is like I I’m still just


learning about this world and the business world and and emails like


emails another thing that has blown my mind holy cow people send


so many emails which was not the case as a soccer player so that was new that’s


interesting that’s interesting I know I I take that for granted I think the you know I looked at my inbox at one point


it had a couple hundred thousand that I hadn’t opened and it’s very annoying to other people but yeah I think that


that’s also inspiring and challenging is you know whether you’re learning pickleball or whether you’re learning in


the business World whether you’re trying to imagine the best Partnerships or the growth pattern that’s part of the game


that’s what keeps us young then so it keeps us enthusiastic and excited is is the challenge like there’s not a clear


path of like you said there’s some ideas about what chicken and pickle might do or what you might do with the company


but really they’re all sort of hypotheses you have to prove out so it’ll be really fun to see what’s coming


next um and you know thank you for sharing your story and Chicken N Pickle story and um really just excited to to see



it’s great and of course I would love if you would come to California and but I’ll just have to make my way to where


the chicken and pickles are it’s fine with me it’s warmer there anyway yeah no if we ever make it out there I you will


be one of the first people to know I will call you or text you but if you’re ever in a city that has a chicken and


pickle you got to reach out we’d love to have you come check one out and we’ll take care of you all right well Matt it’s so great to hear about your story


and I really wish you and the company so much luck and just really excited to see the growth in this crazy sport that’s


just taken off it’s it’s so much fun so thank you well yeah thank you for the kind words and thanks for having me on I


enjoyed it hey guys thanks for listening to Simply pickleball we will be back very soon with great interviews


discussions and more all about pickleball don’t forget to subscribe to our channels on YouTube Twitter


Instagram or any of your favorite podcasting Outlets until next time happy dinking

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