Derek DeSantis and Areg Maghakian shared a goal. Both love coffee, beer, and board games, and the two were interested in combining their passions to introduce the Bay Area to a board game cafe — an idea growing popular outside of the US. DeSantis and Maghakian were inspired by the idea of using the collaborative virtual game world to stimulate real-life connections between friends and family members.
DeSantis met Maghakian online after publishing a rudimentary website, which asked for anyone interested in partnering or investing in a Bay Area Board Game Cafe to contact him. When living abroad, Maghakian had visited game cafes in Canada and was interested in the idea, so he reached out to DeSantis. “We started talking on Skype and eventually decided to partner up, rather than competing with each other,” said DeSantis. “That led to [Maghakian] moving here and starting our search for a location.” DeSantis and Maghakian began looking for a business location in the South Bay, where DeSantis lives, but ended up choosing Berkeley as a location, in order to build off its thriving gaming community.
In 2015, the product of the duo’s vision finally opened its doors. The business was named Victory Point Cafe, Berkeley’s first board game and cafe fusion. Located on Shattuck Ave. on the outskirts of the Gourmet Ghetto, Victory Point Cafe is a place to meet new people over a favorite board game, with a steaming cup of coffee in hand.
Since founding Victory Point Cafe, DeSantis and Maghakian have worked to establish a welcoming and community-driven environment, hoping to make it a venue to connect with friends and family. “I wanted to [create] a space where people could get together to share face-to-face analog experiences,” said DeSantis. Victory Point Cafe aims to connect with Berkeley’s thriving game community and student base, while providing an introductory space to new gamers.
The walls of Victory Point Cafe are packed with over 750 board games, divided into eight groups that range from “nostalgia” to “heavy strategy.” “Game Gurus” at the cafe recommend games to groups, then help to explain the rules and setup. Prior to the pandemic, the cafe also offered game nights and tournaments that operated on a weekly basis. One example of such gatherings is “Game Designer Night,” when local designers would bring in game prototypes for testing. “I’ve heard from several designers who now have published games partially thanks to our designer nights,” said DeSantis. However, he also emphasized that even if customers are not planning on playing games, they are still welcome to visit the cafe for a drink or bite to eat, choosing from the menu of snacks, sandwiches, and pizza.
Victory Point Cafe’s casual atmosphere and unique business model has attracted a variety of customers. Students, parents with their children, and laptop workers can regularly be found gaming or working within the cafe’s space. “Our customer base is diverse,” said DeSantis. “We can host all sorts of people or groups, even if they aren’t interested in board games — although most are after their visit!”
Unfortunately, like many other small businesses in Berkeley, Victory Point Cafe has been hit hard by the pandemic. “The fundamental nature of our business model requires people to sit at a table touching shared game pieces,” explained DeSantis. “COVID-19 has drastically altered how we operate.” He and Maghakian began offering game rentals earlier that year, and set up an outdoor area for customers to dine when restrictions permit. “We hope that we can survive the COVID-19 storm and still have a business to run once all restrictions are lifted,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis attributes the success of Victory Point Cafe to the customer base. “We help facilitate memorable experiences that stick with [people] long after they leave,” he said. “That encourages them to tell their family and friends, and also return for more memories.”