JARED PAUL BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER FOR A LIVING. As founder of theXchange, an online concert ticket marketplace, he knows how to build communities. So during the pandemic, when he played pickleball for the first time and fell in love with the game, he immediately saw the possibilities for connecting players in Austin, Texas, where he lives. “Pickleball is that one sport where anybody can play and have a great time,” Paul says. In late 2020, he launched Pickleball Austin, as a Facebook group. “Originally it was a way for me to meet other players and find games, but I realized it could be more than that,” he says.
Four months later, recognizing the need for a national community, Paul launched The Kitchen on Facebook. (It is now also a website, thekitchenpickle.com, and can be found on social media including Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.) His longtime friend Jason Aspes quickly came on board as cofounder to help run things. “Jared had been in my ear about how pickleball was more fun than tennis,” says Aspes. “As I continued to play, I realized he was right. There is nothing more exciting than a battle at the net. That sense of joy is unique to pickleball.” The duo were fueled by a similar purpose: to create a place for people to come together and bond over the sport.
“TO BUILD OUR COMMUNITY, I HAD AN EARLY STRATEGY OF REACHING OUT TO THE PROS and saying, ‘Hey, I’d love for you to come in and post your content, and in exchange, we’ll feature you,’” says Paul. “A lot of pros took us up on that, and they invited their own communities as well, so we grew fairly quickly.” (The Kitchen currently has an audience of 170,000 across their platforms.) “Anyone who wants to learn to play better, see highlights, ask questions, and hear what other players are thinking—that’s who comes to The Kitchen,” Aspes says.
“ONE FUN SEGMENT WE DO THAT’S A HIT IS LUNCH GAME, where we play against the pros,” says Aspes, who has a background in media. “When you watch pickleball on TV, you see a lot of dinking and you think, I could compete with that guy. We thought, What if we took on pros—could we win? And we learned very quickly that no, we cannot! That’s a fun experience for the viewer and it shows them how good these pros are. And then there’s Kitchen Konversations, where we talk about pickleball with commissioners of leagues, professional players, and rules officials. That’s where people can get the latest information about the game.”
“I look at our mission as championing the sport of pickleball, to clarify rules and strategies, and to be the destination where beginners and experts can talk and learn about the sport,” says Aspes.
“To me, the game is about community,” Paul says. “I want The Kitchen to be the space where people connect with others through pickleball.”