Role Selection is an interview series in which we chat up folks who work, live, and play board games in a variety of ways to learn about the roles in the hobby they’ve chosen.
Character Name: Ryn Grant
Role: Co-Owner, The Castle Gaming Cafe
Location: Beverly, Massachusetts
Player Color: Black
Gateway Games: Seven Wonders, Betrayal at House on the Hill
Favorite Game to Draw People into Gaming: Castle Panic
Quote: “We have pretzel bites that I am obsessed with and have to make sure not to eat all of them so there are none left for customers.”
Character Bio: Ryn Grant had a problem. She was working a cubicle job she didn’t like, even though it was pretty good as those kinds of jobs go. She need to think outside the box (and the cubicle). So in December of 2015 — and with the help of her entrepreneurial-minded husband, Kevin — the young couple opened The Castle, a board-gaming cafe in Beverly, Mass.
The Castle seats about 75 customers, with 18 tables and 10 employees. Their board game library started with 100 or so of their games, plus another 150 they went out and purchased. Thanks to donations and ongoing acquisitions, their library is now approaching 700 titles.
But The Castle is more than just gaming – there’s also the food. The cafe’s menu features snacks, hot and cold foods, and all kinds of drinks, including local beers. Grant admits to loving the pretzel bites perhaps a bit much, but she says the bahn mi panini is also very popular.
I started out by asking which games at The Castle see the most table time.
Ryn Grant: The party games get a lot of play: FunEmployed, SuperFight, Red Flags. There’s also a lot of people who love the classics like Risk, Life, Scrabble, Chess. And then we get a lot of date nights who play things like Quarto, Stratego, Patchwork.
Matt Golec: When planning your menu, were you always thinking about game-friendly food – i.e., what you could eat while playing games?
RG: Yes, but we’re slowly allowing messier foods as we are pleasantly surprised at how respectful people are of games. Still no nachos yet, though!
MG: What’s your customer mix like? Are they deep into games, more casual, or people just looking for a fun place to eat?
RG: We have a huge range. We have hardcore gamers who come out for things like Arkham Horror and stay all day, a lot of casual people who just want the latest party or light strategy game, and families who want to play Life together. It’s been a surprisingly broad customer base.
MG: Do you think a board game cafe might feel less intimidating to a new or casual gamer than a traditional game store?
RG: Absolutely. Our staff is trained to introduce you to new games and get you playing something new quickly, even if you’ve only ever played Monopoly before.
Behind The Cardboard Curtain
MG: You have a $5 per day cover charge for people to come and play games. How does that fee help support The Castle, and are customers comfortable with paying it?
RG: Generally, customers are very happy with the fee. You can have a whole day of entertainment for $5, which is cheaper than the movies, mini golf, bowling or most other activities. Mostly, it’s to balance out the fact that we have much lower turnover than a regular restaurant. It also helps us to update and maintain our library.
MG: From your blog, it looks like The Castle is hosting other community events, such as an improv night. Has this been helpful in keeping the business healthy and bringing more people to The Castle?
RG: For one, we love being involved in our community – it’s the sole reason we exist. But it also benefits us, because it gets people in the door who might not otherwise step foot in a board game cafe because they don’t consider themselves “gamers.”
MG: As a young married couple with kids, how you do carve out family time while running a business that’s open until 11 PM every night?
RG: Oh goodness, it’s difficult! We’re tired, but also we’re doing what we love so it’s worth it. We also get to make the schedule, so we probably get to spend more time with our kids (Elijah, 2, and Colin, 6) than if we worked 9 to 5 jobs. Plus our 6-year-old loves helping at The Castle.
MG: What do you know now about running The Castle that you wish you’d known back when you first opened?
RG: That we’d be successful? (That) sounds silly, but knowing how much we’d love doing this and that we’d be able to sustain a business would have helped us be confident to take a lot more risks in the beginning.
Despite a busy schedule running The Caslte, Ryn Grant has no regrets about escaping her cubicle life.
Matt Golec is game designer with a background in print journalism. Combining these skills, he aims to explore and give voice to the many different jobs within the hobby industry that don’t frequently get reported on. He can be best reached via Twitter.
You can discuss this article and more on our social media!
Photo Credits: Multiple Photos from The Castle.