The Board and Brew: Taking a chance on a new type of place

By Alessia Grunberger

Photo by Henk de Boer
Photo by Henk de Boer

As students at the University of Maryland, Brian McClimens and Ben Epstein recalled spending many nights with their friends playing board games on the sixth floor of Ellicott Hall.

The pair loved to play board games so much that the alumni and former housemates of more than five years decided to open a café called the Board and Brew. While conceptualizing this unique idea, both believed that College Park could desperately use more entertainment options, so they decided to bring the establishment to Route 1.

“College Park has a good demographic for it,” Sharif Kellogg, the manager, said. “The city has a pretty significant population of 20-somethings. And that’s why the Board and Brew could thrive.”

The venue, which is located under the Varsity and occupying the space where Roti – a Mediterranean eatery – used to exist, is expected to open in the next four or five weeks, Kellogg said. The space can hold just under 100 people.

The concept for this establishment is simple: customers will browse shelves filled with more than 500 games – ranging from classics, such as chess and Hungry Hungry Hippos to more unique games, such as Battlestar Galactica and Kings of Air and Steam. For the first three hours of playing games, patrons will pay an hourly fee of $2.50. After that, it is free of charge.

“Our game collection is a primary feature of the space, and even people who don’t know the first thing about games tend to be surprised and curious when they first see it,” McClimens, one of the owners, said.

This large game collection is intended to grow – perhaps to 1,000 games, or more. Where does the duo get all these games? One way is from gaming manufactures; and the second way is from donations. Many of the donations come from friends – yet, some come from strangers who love the Board and Brew’s concept.

However, if patrons are overwhelmed by the ever-growing stock of games the Board and Brew has, the owners – McClimens and Epstein – will have trained staff to help people find something they’ll enjoy.

“The three of us have been trying to play different games every day so we can get familiar with them,” Kellogg said.

In addition to incorporating games to the business plan, the owners anticipate bringing live entertainment and other activities for customers to enjoy, such as open mic nights and board game competitions, City of College Park’s Economic Development Coordinator Michael Stiefvater said.

“Hopefully [these events and activities] will foster a sense of community and become a go-to spot to hang out,” Stiefvater added.

“It’s easy to build the buzz word ‘customer loyalty,’” Kellogg said. “But we want people who come here and want to sit down, and build a community around this place.”

“We are a destination,” Kellogg added. “The reason why bars are so success is because it’s a hangout spot. We are hoping and trying very hard to get us on the map like that.”

Since the Board and Brew is located by off-campus student housings, McClimens and Epstein think that it will be easier to foster a community feel and draw people to their establishment – especially to their specialty drinks.

“We don’t have too much competition in the specialty coffee market,” McClimens said. “Starbucks and Ten Ren’s are south of campus, so we think we’ll be better able to stake out our territory on the north side in the coffee market.”

In addition to the specialty drinks that the Board and Brew will serve, the establishment has a full kitchen, and will be offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner – which the owners think will add to the venue’s laid-back vibe.

McClimens, Epstein, and Kellogg agreed that they wanted customers to feel relaxed at the Board and Brew; the venue should not be a quick “in-and-out” place, like Roti and YoLove were before they closed down.

Kellogg said that the difference between Roti and YoLove, a frozen yogurt place that closed down next door, and the Board and Brew all comes down to appeal.

“Roti was like the Chipotle for Mediterranean food,” Kellogg said. “As for Yolove, you come in, you make frozen yogurt, and you get out. And that’s all good and well.

“However, if you are located somewhere where there is not a lot of parking – like by the Varsity – it’s not that good. Why would you spend 20 minutes to park when you only get five minutes of service?”

Yet, with establishments even that have good parking, if they are situated in a college town, their customers are usually predominantly students. Therefore, once summer comes around, there may be fewer customers. There have been restaurants in College Park that suffered because of this and, eventually, had to close down. Epstein, though, is not worried.

“Because of how unique we are, [Brian and I] feel like we are going to be able to pull people from areas a little further away,” Epstein said. “Plus, there are still students who stay in College Park over the summer – especially graduate students.”

Though sophomore Nina Marks is excited about the Board and Brew, she does not thinking that parking around that area is accommodating for students.

“Parking in that area is difficult to understand and is limited in quantity,” Marks said. “The spaces are not all clearly marked and sometimes it is hard to differentiate between permit required spaces and public parking.”
Until the Board and Brew officially opens, McClimens said that they haven’t invested in a whole lot of advertisements on- and off-campus.

The owners have been using Facebook and Twitter, although, to some extent; and they have advertised minimally at the Varsity. Additionally, they have posted a few times of Reddit.

“I think there should definitely be more advertising closer to the opening and next semester so students are aware and reminded of the establishment,” Glynn said.

“Any focused effort on advertising will wait until we have a firm opening date,” McClimens said. “We will advertise more aggressively around campus and social media at that point, but we’ll be saving for a big push at the start of the fall semester, when students return.”








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