You should only worry about a person with a beer in one hand and an axe in the other if they aren’t at one of Steven Laatsch’s Rocket Axe throwing lanes.

For Laatsch, who is employed as an electrician by the city of Pekin, axe throwing is less of a national trend and more of a passion, something to dedicate his time, energy and, now, finances into, all in the hopes of spreading his love for the endeavor to others in the area.

It all started in Louisville, Ky., while taking in the festivities surrounding the Kentucky Derby. Laatsch’s son took him axe throwing while there, and it didn’t take long for Laatsch to recognize that he loved doing it, and there was a business possibility. 

He began by making targets for himself in the backyard of his Marquette Heights home, and throwing axes at them quickly became a nightly ritual. 

“A tennis ball out to my dog and two axes into the wood,” said Laatsch of the routine.

The nightly session was important for two reasons: it gave Laatsch an idea about the longevity of the targets that he built himself and gave him necessary axe throwing experience to move him from novice to expert — Laatsch participated in the axe throwing world championship last year.

“My wife got into it, we started throwing kind of competitively between ourselves and came up with the idea, ‘Hey, let’s change our business into axe throwing,’” said Laatsch.

To this point in the arc of axe throwing as trend, the activity has been largely relegated to city centers or areas directly outside of those major markets, and the lanes in which people throw those axes are often, as Laatsch has noticed, indoors. With Rocket Axe, Laatsch wanted to provide a different experience for people outside of those city centers.

“We wanted to be able to bring it out to more people for them to enjoy,” said Laatsch.

Currently, Rocket Axe is set up at four locations across central Illinois at McMahon’s Pints and Plates in Sunnyland, Industry Brewing in North Peoria, Hill Prairie winery in Oakford and Psycho Silo Saloon in Langley. While his axe throwing setups are spread across the central part of the state, Laatsch considers Pekin his homebase.

One of the goals for Laatsch moving forward is to expand the types of people who come out to those venues. Axe throwing, he admits, is currently dominated by younger people.

“If you go to the axe houses it’s a lot of millennials,” said Laatsch.

At those axe houses, the regulars are called axe junkies, for obvious reasons. Laatsch is hoping to create new axe junkies from various demographics, in addition to millennials.

Recently, Laatsch had three generations of one family at a Rocket Axe location, including a man in his 80s.

“It was awesome. They were at a graduation from Bradley, so we had the student, their parents and their (parent’s) parent,” said Laatsch, who, quite simply, was impressed by the showing.

“He’s 80 years old, and he was sticking (his throws),” said Laatsch. “That’s awesome.”

Under shaded seating near the throwing lanes at McMahon’s on Wednesday morning, Laatsch shared that he was excited about the future for Rocket Axe but added that it wasn’t always blue skys.

In getting started, insurance and perception were the toughest hurdles for Rocket Axe to clear.

The insurance was rather straightforward in process: acquire the proper insurance coverage for a business that centers on throwing weapons, and then find enough venues so that the margins ensure the business will be sustainable.

Perception, on the other hand, was a little more difficult to overcome.

“I spent all winter long where I was pounding the pavement talking to business owners,” said Laatsch. “Quite frankly, most of them laughed at me.”

The doubts, and also the laughter, centered around the combination of axes and alcohol.

Laatsch still answers questions about the combination but wants to be clear that, though he understands any initial questions, Rocket Axe has taken enough precautions to ensure as much safety as they can.

Rocket Axe does have safety rules on their website for people to read prior to booking lanes, and those rules state that participants are allowed only two alcoholic drinks while throwing.

“We’re where your party starts. Our insurance allows a couple drinks while you’re throwing, but you need to come here sober,” said Laatsch. “Quite frankly, if you’ve been drinking a lot, you ain’t going to hit the target anyway.”

Part of ensuring that the regulations are policed is having a staff. The Rocket Axe staff is growing — there are currently seven employees — and Laatsch is confident that he’ll be able to keep hiring as the summer goes on.

“I can’t find enough people,” said Laatsch. “Once this weather breaks, I think it’s going to be absolutely (packed) with the response that we’re getting at different venues.”

One of the current hurdles Laatsch has faced is a natural one, the weather. “I was hoping for a little bit better spring, but, you know, just like a bad throw in axe throwing, you (have to) go grab it and take another throw,” said Laatsch.

On the subject of throwing, Laatsch can still hold his own. 

When asked if since he’s been able to throw as much as he used to since he started the business, he laughed a little, almost as if he couldn’t believe the question. 

“Absoultely, are you kidding?” said Laatsch. “Last night, I went to run a tournament across the river at Industry Brewing, and I walked in there just smiling going, ‘Hey, guess what I get to do today? Throw an axe.’”