When the door closed on their real estate business, Steve Johnston and Rich Heruska jumped through another one — literally.
Last weekend, the pair opened Airheads Trampoline Arena, a trampoline park that follows a trend in indoor family entertainment that is gaining popularity in places like San Francisco, Las Vegas and St. Louis.
The place on Linebaugh Avenue offers thousands of square feet of trampoline space for patrons to jump, play games and get fit.
"We just really saw the family entertainment space was one we could be successful in," Heruska, 34, said. "We wanted to offer a good venue for people to come have a nice time and grab a bite to eat."
More than 10,000 square feet in the 15,000-square-foot building is made up of bright blue trampoline pads.
Patrons can literally "bounce off the walls," Heruska said.
The concept appeals to adults as well.
"You really get a workout," said Jamie Gray, 22, a graduate student at Temple University. "Playing the games like volleyball and kickball, you really feel it."
Heruska and Johnston, 38, wanted to create an enjoyable atmosphere for a range of ages. They also wanted to create a business that would weather the volatile economy.
"We saw in these more challenging times families still wanted to go out and enjoy themselves," Heruska said. "We consider this to be a recession-resistant model."
Locally, others also are getting into the jumping attraction world. In March, Boing Jump Center opened in Brandon.
Johnston and Heruska met while attending the University of South Florida in the '90s.
Johnston, a political science major, started a student meal plan debit card business when he graduated. Heruska, a business management major, joined him after graduating later.
In 2002, the pair opened Home Discovery Real Estate Services. The Tampa-based home selling business became highly successful, employing 300 people and selling 250 homes a month at its peak, Johnston said.
But in 2007 when the real estate market crashed, business slowed to almost a halt.
"When you go from selling a lot of homes to a little bit of homes, you have to adjust quickly," Heruska said.
With their own families growing — Heruska has a 3-year-old son and Johnston has two sons, 3 and 5 — the men realized Tampa could use more indoor venues for family fun. They researched what was popular in the family entertainment world.
"Trampoline parks were emerging as another attraction," said Heruska, who lives in Cory Lake Isles.
About a year ago, the pair set out to research the concept, journeying to trampoline parks in Las Vegas and California.
Then it was time to search for a space in Tampa. After looking at about 100 buildings, they decided on the Linebaugh location for its 24-foot ceilings and central location.
"We're 6 miles from Busch Gardens, not far from Dale Mabry or Gunn Highway, and lots of schools are in this area," Heruska said.
Airheads has a futuristic vibe with blue and green colors throughout.
"We wanted to make this a bright environment where people walked in and said 'Let's have some fun,' " said Johnston, a South Tampa resident.
Customers receive special trampoline shoes, which look like high-top sneakers. Anyone under 18 must wear a helmet.
In addition to the trampolines, there are 30 arcade games, a space for birthday parties, a sitting area for parents and the Air Café eatery, which sells hotdogs, pizza, wraps and salads.
As for the name, the men went through hundreds before deciding on Airheads.
"We thought it'd be cool if we gave air-sports enthusiasts their own category and name," Johnston said.
Airheads provided a cool escape Tuesday for Heather Taylor and her three children.
"There's not much to do around here that's inside," said Taylor, 34, "and for them to be able to burn off energy is huge."
In the coming weeks, Airheads will begin offering "Jumpnasium" for children 5 and under. Fitness classes for adults are in the works, Heruska said.
"We're just trying to bring out the kid in everyone," he said.
Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3405.