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Murder mystery show founders play up big expansion plans

When the Pineapple Kitchen Mysteries began selling out two or three months in advance, Jenny and Mike Schenk quickly shifted to expand.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. September 11, 2023
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Jenny and Mike Schenk, co-owners of Bradenton-based Pineapple Kitchen, recently announced an expansion of the murder-mystery part of the company.
Jenny and Mike Schenk, co-owners of Bradenton-based Pineapple Kitchen, recently announced an expansion of the murder-mystery part of the company.
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  • Manatee-Sarasota
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The mystery of ‘who done it’ is spreading in the Sarasota-Bradenton area thanks to hospitality company Pineapple Kitchen, which is expanding its adult interactive murder mystery dinner locations to keep up with demand. 

The east Manatee County-based business, which also provides culinary education and gourmet products, will start hosting the murder mystery dinners at the EVEN Hotel in Lakewood Ranch and Hotel Indigo in downtown Sarasota, beginning in November. Currently, the dinners are only available at its Lakewood Ranch Lena Road location. 

The original plan was to produce a new show quarterly to entice previous guests to come back. But when the show The Mystery at the Pineapple Inn hit the website, it sold out — fast. 

“Our intention was to change it over in March (2023),” says Mike Schenk, who co-owns the business with his wife, Jenny Schenk. “Because of the popularity of that show, we decided to continue it. It continued to sell out two or three months in advance. We carried that show for seven months.” 

The same thing happened for their recent 80s themed show in August. After selling out in two weeks, they decided to extend it through September. 

The show's audience ranges from around 20-30 people. According to the website, the shows cost upward of $120 per person. For a 30-person show, that brings in some $3,600. 

“It got to the point where our customers were saying, ‘well, we wanted to do this, but it got sold out,’” Jenny says. At that point they realized they were going to need a bigger space. After mulling over advice from three advisors, they began looking for small, boutique hotels that offered a small enough space to accommodate their intimate shows. “We don’t want to take away from the intimacy of the interaction being created,” she adds. 

Knowing the hotels would take the food service responsibilities away and give them more space, it was the best choice. They looked for hotels with spaces that accommodated no more than 45 guests. 

The duo says they don’t pay a rental fee for the use of the space, instead they negotiate based on the number of people who attend and the amount of food and alcohol purchased. The Schenks declined to disclose the negotiated price or how much it costs to put on a show. 

Guests become characters and suspects during the three-hour, four-course dinner show as they race to figure out who committed the hypothetical murder. The theme at the hotels will be called Pineapple’s Speakeasy, where guests are encouraged to dress as gangsters and flappers. The shows run every weekend, sometimes adding Thursdays. 

The Schenks, celebrating 35 years of marriage this year, has worked in the hospitality industry since they were in their 20s. The first product to hit shelves under the Pineapple Kitchen brand, in 2019, was a soft pretzel bite kit with dip. Soon after getting their start, the pandemic hit. But the Schenks were still able to get that product in over 300 stores nationwide. 

Since then, they’ve added a tasting room, the culinary theater and expanded product offerings to include charcuterie trays, gourmet meats and cheeses and an extensive line of sauces. Another one of their more successful lines of business is the Kitchen Kids program that teaches basic kitchen skills and ends with the kids putting on their own pop-up restaurant and serving their parents. The four-day camp repeats for nine weeks, and when the summer camps were launched for 2023 in January, every camp sold out in the matter of three weeks, Mike says.

The variety of revenue streams is by design. 

“We’re strong believers that to have a successful business, you probably need several channels,” Mike says. With his background in theater and acting, he wanted to capitalize on the entertainment side of hospitality. 

That’s why all of the murder mystery shows come with handwritten scripts. And not just for the improv actors they hire to play an investigator and help move the story along. The scripts are handwritten for every guest as well, because everyone is a character at the show. 

With the recent growing interest, the couple now has ambitious goals to accomplish in the next few years. Using Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch as a test market for the murder mystery dinner shows, they hope to eventually get into other markets like Naples or Tampa. Mike says they may even look to expand outside Florida.

As for the culinary side of things, between the culinary theater, product line and tasting room, things are a little cramped at the Lena Road location, which is off State Road 70, just east of Interstate 75. In the next year or two the duo plans to explore having a second, albeit bigger, location specifically in the Lakewood Ranch area in a high-profile space. 

Pineapple Kitchen recently launched its Feelin’ Grazey catering party menu. And is now looking to expand in distribution. The couple hired a food broker to help negotiate with larger retailers including the Holy Grail for small food purveyors: Publix


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