Abbotsford is finally getting its own board game café, where, for a small cover charge, anyone can come in and access a vast library of board games to play, with an accompanying menu of food and drinks to order. Boardwalk Cafe is opening in Downtown Abbotsford on Montrose, right between Mad Dogs and Black & Lee. Upon opening, they plan to have two-hundred and fifty to three-hundred games.
Board game cafés aren’t a new concept. They have been appearing in places such as downtown Vancouver and on the Island. With the positive growth of the Abbotsford downtown it was only a matter of time before one of these shops opened. It is the perfect blend of community and hobby that the downtown has been growing into.
I had a conversation with one of the owners, Darin Graham. He showed me around the café and showcased some of the board games he will have upon opening.
What made you want to open up a board game café?
Equal parts entrepreneurship and desperation. We had been to one in Edmonton and really enjoyed the experience and thought that Abbotsford could really benefit from something like this. Something that is very socially centered, something that gives people an opportunity to connect with one another.
That’s one thing that we have seen in the community already with different businesses opening up. Just different ways for people to spend time with one another that isn’t just necessarily just going to watch a movie.
There are limited options.
We just saw this concept as something that we think could really work. So, then we decided to do it.
Do you have to memorize the rules of all the games?
I have a working understanding of many of them. And usually that’s what I do when my wife goes to sleep. I’ll stay up watching YouTube videos on how to play these games. Because, it’s important when people come in — and maybe they’re not familiar with a lot of the games — to have a bit of knowledge on some of the popular ones. So, we’ll know most of them.
I think it’s a bit too tall of a task to know how to play all of them. But, most of them, I think is within reason.
That’s a nice classic Payday there.
We had a bunch of games given to us, and that was one of them.
I thought maybe it was a family relic.
No. Our family didn’t really play a lot growing up. We had Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Scattergories, and that was about it. We don’t really have any family heirloom games. If we did, it would be Stock Ticker, but I can’t find a copy of Stock Ticker anywhere.
You and your wife both own this store; why don’t you tell us a little about yourselves?
Originally, I’m from the south Okanagan. I moved out to Abbotsford, about 10 years ago to go to college, and just never left. I really enjoyed it out here.
My wife was born and raised in Aldergrove, and her family is still all there. We’ve just really grown to love the Fraser Valley, and love Abbotsford. So, we kinda stuck it out here.
You’ve mentioned you looked to this business in Edmonton for inspiration. What’s your takeaway from that? And what do you plan to do differently?
We’ve seen a couple of different models, from the one we went to in Edmonton to the one that’s happening on Vancouver Island. There’s a really good one in Victoria. Even different places in Vancouver are kind of pursuing this sort of thing. They all approach it a little bit differently. But, the key things that we’ve had at the centre of our idea is to make this place as accessible as possible.
[Board gaming] can be a challenging hobby to get into, and I think a lot of people have some misconceptions about board gaming and tabletop gaming. Either that it’s boring or that it’s especially nerdy. The truth is, more than anything, it’s just a lot of fun. It’s just a way to connect with other people.
That’s why we valued having a high visual aesthetic. We want it to be an appealing place for people to spend their time. We want it to be central in the community itself. That’s why we tried to find a location much like this one. We tried to brand ourselves in such a way that isn’t intimidating, or isn’t a turn off.
As well, we’re pursuing getting our liquor licence. We think that is important, but pursuing it in such a way that this place is still accessible to minors and teenagers. So, we’ll be having our food-primary liquor licence which allows us to have minors on the premises.
What sort of time frame are you looking at for opening?
We’re hoping for early December. We haven’t really set a final date for that. It’s just kind of dependent on a number of things falling into place. Getting our washroom finished, and that sort of thing, is pretty determinative.
Also, giving ample time to our Kickstarter campaign is pretty important to us. We have some rewards to that that are tied to our opening. So, we want to have that finished before we open.
What are your hours going to be like? Are you going to be an afternoon lunch place, or an evening hang out?
More evenings. We anticipate that throughout the week — so Tuesday through Thursday — we will be open from two or three in the afternoon to about 10 or 11 at night. Then on Fridays we’ll be open until midnight. Saturdays, probably 10 a.m. until midnight. Sunday will be some variation on that.
We will have food that people could eat for lunch, but that is not the primary purpose of our existence. We want people to connect outside of those meal times, maybe. But we want to make sure that we’re open late, because there are really very few options for what to do after dinner time.
How has your experience been opening this place?
It’s had its ups and downs for sure. Overall it’s been a very positive experience. We’ve had a lot of people that have come alongside of us and encouraged us, and walked with us on the journey, but there have been many challenges. There’ve been times when we’ve just been really exhausted and asking ourselves, “what are we doing” and “why are we doing this,” but right now we’re just really excited. We’ve just turned some corners and been able to tie some things up, and really get towards the goal.
This building is starting to look pretty close to a finished product.
Yeah. It got real when we made the chairs. Tables are one thing. Having all the light fixtures changed was another. Having the games was great. But, having chairs in here, and seeing it look like a place where people would come was incredible.
The first night, when we had all the chairs, I went around and flipped them all upside down and put them on the table, and realized that this was the next chapter of my life. Just flipping these chairs over and sweeping the floor, and it was really exciting.
Even when we got our first resume, or first inquiry for employment that was from someone that we had no mutual friends with on Facebook, that’s when it became a little bit more incredible to us. It was moving beyond our normal spheres of influence.
Well it’s great for the hobby too. Sometimes board games can be expensive to buy, especially if you’re not familiar with the game. But, here you can come in and pay the cover and try anything.
We see that. In the greater hobby of board gaming there is slowly becoming a large conglomerate of companies, owned by a company called Asmodee, and they own a lot of the other board game publishers. Which, has kind of created for them a “Monopoly.” What it results in is the price of board gaming as a hobby is getting higher. So is the cost of living. So you have to make these choices of where you’re going to spend your money.
So, we think, even from that standpoint, we are going to be able to provide a service to people, where those games that they would want to play but can’t necessarily afford, or would purchase if only they knew if they would like it. I think that we can help with that.
It can be hard sometimes to find good comprehensive reviews of board games.
Even if you watch a couple videos on Youtube, and kinda get an idea. I’ve had it: we’ve had a game on the shelf here, Smash Up — I watched these videos, I read about it, and I went out and purchased it, and I really like it… No one else that I play games with does.
I spent all this money on this game and two expansions and I don’t even get to play it, because nobody likes it.
Hopefully someone, someday will come in and pick it up.
Absolutely. But, when you’re going to go out and spend your hard-earned dollars, it’s important to know that what you’re spending it on is going to be a good investment.
There are a few board game shops in town, including Nerd Haven games just around the corner: what kind of relationship have you built with the local gaming shops?
We haven’t necessarily, from a business standpoint, done that. But I’ve bought many games from them, and some of them are sitting on our shelves. Same with the Phoenix Nest, which is the other board game shop on Clearbrook.
Ultimately, I think, we can benefit one another. We’re not going to start with a retail section here, so people can’t, at this point in time, purchase games here. But, we sure hope that they do purchase them from the stores here in town. And, I hope that when people go to those places and say, “oh, I’m interested in buying this game but I don’t know if I’d like it,” that they’d recommend that they come here to try it out. I hope that we can have a symbiotic relationship with them.
We want to have a good relationship with those guys. They’ve been here longer than we have, and they’ve invested in this community already. So, we want to see them do well. And I think, honestly, that a rising tide lifts all ships. The more people that are shopping downtown, the better it is for all the businesses that are down here.
“The first night, when we had all the chairs, I went around and flipped them all upside down and put them on the table, and realized that this was the next chapter of my life.”
Do you ever plan on hosting any major events here?
We’ve talked about doing different events, and we’ll probably keep them centered around “events” rather than around games. I know that many people have asked if we’re going to do different tournaments or what not, and we’re probably going to stay away from that. There are other stores in town that already do that, and do them really well. We don’t want to infringe on that. We want to work on getting as many people into this hobby as possible. Having that accessible atmosphere works better if we’re not doing tournaments for games, but we are definitely going to be having some special events.
We are looking at doing our grand opening. We’ve also seriously discussed doing singles nights, and that sort of thing. We want to do a family games night, on a regular basis, where it’s easier and cheaper for parents to bring their kids out to play games. I think that that’s very valuable for families. There’s no better way to connect with someone than to do something tactile together. There are some really good cooperative games where families can come in and work on something together.
We would love to do something for New Year’s. We wished we had been open for Halloween, because we could have had a rockin’ Halloween party. We’re definitely into doing those special events.
Some of them we’ve already talked about doing them as a way to support our community. We really value the work that the Cyrus Centre is doing in Abbotsford. Fighting against youth homelessness, which is an issue that we don’t talk about very much. We want to do something to partner with them.
We had a friend that worked there, and took us to their auction, and we really just fell in love with what they’re trying to do. So, we really want to work something out with them that can benefit our community. That’s important to us. We’re nothing without our community.
What does success look like for you, in this business?
We’ve measured it in two ways, or at least I have, in my head. One branch of success for us is if we can pay off our small business loan. If we can do that, and if we fold the next day, I guess that’s okay. But, more than anything, success for us, is establishing a place that people can connect with one another, and where we can connect with them. That’s really been the primary focus of what we’re trying to do. How we measure that is really difficult, but I think we’ll know when we know.
Those are very noble aspirations. It’s nice a to see a business focus on community driven imperatives.
Well, we could have done other things. I could have gotten another job, but we saw that this could be something that benefits our community and benefits us. Every person that comes in here and leaves having had a good time, is a pat on the back for us.
You’ve mentioned before that you weren’t ready to release your menu yet. Do you have any sneak previews for us about what you’d potentially be serving?
Definitely. We’re doing probably just three sandwiches that are quite simple. All of which will be as locally sourced as possible. So, we’ve been talking with Lepp Farms about getting a lot of product through them. We’ve been talking to the Mt. Lehman Cheese Company to get cheese from them. Hopefully all of our bread will be brought in by A Bread Affair, which is out of Langley.
So, really, all of our stuff comes back to community. We don’t want to get stuff from Costco.
We’re going to do three sandwiches. One will be a ham and swiss. I’m really excited for our turkey sandwich. It’s going to be turkey with cranberry, and it’s going to taste like Thanksgiving dinner. We’re going to do a meat and cheese board, like a charcuterie. Again, that meat’s all going to come from Lepps, and that cheese is all going to come from Mt. Lehman Cheese Co., with some pickled vegetables, and it’s going to be delicious.
You’ll be doing local craft beer too?
That’s right. We’ve connected with Ravens and Field House. We’re looking at who else to get in for that. We’re also going to only host BC wines as well. That’s something that’s important to us. My family coming from the south Okanagan, just about all of them work at wineries.
Even the non-alcoholic drinks we will be providing are as locally sourced as possible.
We’re still deciding on who to get for coffee. But we have Good Drink, which is based out of Langley. They have some incredible bottled teas. We’re partnering with a relatively new company out of Chilliwack called New Moon Tea. They’re going to be providing all of our tea.
For baked goods, we’re partnering with a woman named Linda Baker, which is a fitting name. She’s going to be doing some baking for us, which is pretty exciting.
Boardwalk Cafe plans on opening in early December, following their Kickstarter campaign, which can be found here.