Like many people of St. John’s, when Mochanopoly stated they were closing their doors, I was saddened that one of the best places in Downtown St. John’s was shutting down. However, all hope is not lost. Like a phoenix from the ashes, a new board game cafe, called The Board Game Barista has opened in the same location.
While business may have changed due to COVID-19, The Board Game Barista is still open for anyone looking for a lunch, coffee, or just a place to sit and relax for a bit. They disinfect all of their surfaces and games to protect the health and safety of their customers. Offering a similar, but distinctly unique experience to the prior game cafe, the Managing Director Kyle Saunders gave us an interview about what the future holds for this new business.
How did you get your start as a business owner?
I’ve just started my business courses at MUN, I’m actually a psychology and English major. I got my interest in business after my father went back to school and got his business degree; I found his text books so interesting to read. I found that with my psychology studies, I was able to use that for marketing. I’ve also had a huge passion for board games for most of my life. My family is a gaming family, we’re a huge army of nerds. Now I have a place where I can show off a bit of my brother’s and friend’s artwork. Most of the artwork you see on the walls are for sale, and the profit from that sale goes directly back to the artist.
Can you describe how the opportunity to take over Mochanopoly’s space came up?
I’m trying not to associate with Mochanopoly as much and kind of make our own name. When we posted the business online, we had to put our location as just Water Street, because if we put up 204 Water Street for events it would always come up as Mochanopoly. Even while we’re trying to disassociate with that brand, I love the people who worked here and all the effort they put in, so I want to make a great space for accessible board games and tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. We will have events for English Second Language students so we can play board games in French and other languages. A bunch of Business students are coming up to me asking “How’d you do it? What did you do?”, but a big part of this business is knowing and talking to the right people. I’m 21 years old and I’m connected with a great real estate agent who’s connected with a lot of the businesses in downtown. Businesses do well through word of mouth, and luckily for us most people in Newfoundland got a big mouth. We love sharing and talking and I want to give people a social hub for everyone to come in and learn.
How do you plan to differentiate yourself from Mochanopoly?
I don’t want to talk negative about Mochanopoly in any way. Leon has been an incredible mentor in helping me get this business off the ground and answering my questions. I want to let you know that the same passion they had for board games, coffee, and community is still here in this place. We will be connected with many local artists in St. John’s, advertising their work and giving them the profits from any art that might be sold here. By extending our hours to early mornings, we’re able to attract a whole new audience during breakfast. We have CIBC people coming in for their morning meetings, RBC wants to start having events here, the Tourism Society wants to book the place so 20 kids from Toronto can come in hand have a good time. We’re getting so much done so fast and we are expanding quickly. Instead of [actively] differentiating ourselves from Mochanopoly, we’re just trying to be our own place.
Are you interested in collaborating with other businesses for future projects?
100%. I have a friend who crafts beers, we’re working on making a gluten-free beer to serve here at the barista once we get our liquor license. We really want to support local businesses, so we plan to collaborate with local artists and organisations to help build a community.
What other businesses would you be interested in getting involved with?
If you have any form of nerd theme craft, any kind of creative work or art, I can do almost anything people have in mind. If you’re a Dungeon Master and you’d like to run and teach a game you like, or if you have an event in mind, we can work to make it happen. We’re a very adaptable and inclusive workplace. We’re working with the Autism Society for accessible nights, where we turn down the noise, and make sure that people with autism or other mental impairment still have the opportunity to play and learn games. I myself have mental health first aid training, and I’m working on a new course with the Autism Society for teaching swimming lessons to autistic children. When I worked at the Aquarena, I was the go-to guy for any child that might be overwhelmed or nervous, because I know they aren’t problems, we just need interesting solutions to help them. Spending time with these people you learn what kind of learner they are: tactile, visual, audio, etc.
What’s your favorite board game?
Hardest question yet. I’d say Five Minute Dungeon, which I’ve just ordered in for the shop. It’s Dungeons and Dragons, but also a deck building card game. The scores of the cards are based on the traits of your character. If you’re a barbarian, a sorcerer, a rogue, all that good stuff. You have five minutes to defeat all the dungeon masters and the boss. They have an app with professional voice actors for the full five minutes that uses symbols on the cards to let you know if you killed the monster or not. Each monster has a pattern, and once you get the cards with the right pattern the monster is defeated.
How involved do you plan to be in the St. John’s board game community?
Tons, our first soft open event was bringing the live action role playing group Epoch here to try the coffee and food, and they really enjoyed it. We’re creating a social hub here, for people to talk and network, and board games are a great way to figure out how people’s minds work.
Do you plan to set up an online presence?
Yes, we have Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Twitch which we will stream on our off hours if anyone wants to talk to us. We can record games of Dungeons and Dragons or other games for a podcast of your group. We will have instructional videos and plays for almost every game on our shelves. We want to give back to the community, and the first step of that is creating a community in the first place. We hope to one day take all the chairs and tables in the cafe and have one giant board game night for everybody.
Any big plans for the summer months?
Definitely. We’ll be getting a milkshake machine, an Italian soda machine, almost anything you can think a barista can possibly have. We have a supplier from Japan who will be sending us authentic bubble tea. We’re hand-selecting the best of the best for our employees and suppliers to bring customers the best possible service.