Table tennis would seem like an unlikely pandemic success story but the team at New York startup PINGPOD has rallied to expand the business during COVID.
“We opened our first location on the Lower East Side in January of 2020, and then we had to shut down due to COVID,” recalls David Silberman, inventor and co-founder of PINGPOD. “But then we were back up pretty quickly. I think we were one of the first non-essential businesses to be open in New York because we’re not a gym and we’re not a restaurant.”
Players make a reservation on the website. “You show up and you use your phone to unlock the door. By default, the door is always locked and key to unlocking the door is having a reservation. And by doing that, we don’t need any employees on site. So we keep costs low, make the economics work,” said Silberman — explaining how their business was COVID compliant.
“We just opened up and required masks and only two people at a time. If you think back to June 2020, everyone was desperate to do something recreational. So people came flooding in and we were a little bit of a COVID beneficiary,” said Silberman.
They launched their second location on W37th Street west of 8th Avenue in June this year. The pandemic helped the PINGPOD team to negotiate the lease of the retail space that now houses 5 ping pong tables visible from the street. “When we signed the lease here on W37th, the hotels were still closed and all the corporations were still shut down. And so I think the landlord was like, ‘all right, who are these ping pong guys coming around looking to sign a lease?’. So he gave us a great deal,” said Silberman.
Last night, we spent the evening at the busy Hell’s Kitchen location for Whiff Whaff Wednesday — a mixed team tournament with over 40 players.
The mission of the business is to make table tennis accessible to everyone — starting in New York. Their technology means that they can operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you walk past the windows during the night, you will see players in action at all hours. “It’s buzzing on a Friday or Saturday night. New York never sleeps. We did an analysis recently — every time slot on every table has been full. So the 4am and 5am slots have been fully occupied,” said Silberman.
The cameras looking at every angle of the club are not just for security. There are replay buttons next to the tables. So if you make an awesome shot, you can click the button and immediately get an email of the replay. The best shots are compiled into a monthly reel of instant replay highlights.
The three founders — Silberman, Ernesto Ebuen (previously Head Coach of New York Table Tennis Academy) and Max Kogler (Former COO/CFO of Super Soccer Stars) — hope to elevate the sport of table tennis, which they say has been historically overlooked in the United States. They want to take beginners “on the journey from Ping Pong to Table Tennis, helping them stay active by promoting a healthy and fun experience next door!”
One convert is Hell’s Kitchen local Carol Klenfner. “I’ve been playing ping pong for about six years – and traveling around Manhattan to find places to play. During COVID, I started going to PINGPOD on the Lower East Side. I had to take two trains,” she told us. “Now that they’ve expanded to a second bigger location on West 37th Street, it’s like heaven. So convenient, top-notch coaches, a ton of people to play with and lots of space with high ceilings! Plus I get to walk down Ninth Avenue and it’s given me the chance to explore the neighborhood and become a regular at Esposito’s, the Fish Market and my favorite, the International Market.”
Silberman’s long-term goal is that “everyone has a PINGPOD within 20 blocks.” Their expansion continues with new venues opening in Williamsburg, Astoria and Philadelphia in the coming months.
PINGPOD is at 321 W37th Street (between 8/9th Avenue). pingpod.com