Hawkwood Game Cafe winning fans in Milford
Ryan McConnell took his wife’s advice to follow his dream — and now he’s smiling upon a community of all ages playing board games at his Hawkwood Game Cafe.
“One of my goals was not to make this a niche stereotype,” McConnell said. “There is a general appeal I was hoping was here.”
McConnell opened the game cafe recently at 50 Broad St., tucked in a row of businesses alongside Colony Grill .
Customers can choose from more than 300 games — everything from the basics such as Candyland to the more complex Settlers of Catan — and take a table for $5 per person, playing for long as they want.
While they play, McConnell offers a snack bar full of game-friendly goodies — coffee, tea, soda, fresh baked cookies, popcorn, ice cream — and even can order them food from nearby Park Lane Deli. They even sell nitrogen-infused iced coffee.
Customers are allowed to bring beer and wine, but no hard liquor.
The cafe has been packing them in since its Jan. 12 opening, but the best part, McConnell said, is the feeling of community and the diverse age groups playing alongside one another.
So far it’s worked liked he’s hoped: families, millennials, seniors, kids, teenagers, all having fun.
On a recent Saturday at the cafe, two older men played chess; a mother, father and two young children played Sorry; two women played Scrabble; and a long table of mixed ages enjoyed a game of Settlers of Catan.
Evan Bellone of Ansonia said having a communal space makes it easier to meet other people who like games.
“I adore it,” he said. “I’ve been having a lot of fun.”
Adam Prestin of Milford, who donated to McConnell’s Kickstarter Campaign, and his girlfriend, Jordan Dell, walked over to the cafe from their apartment.
“It’s super cozy. We were looking for a place to play board games not necessarily with our usual friends,” Prestin said. “It’s a really welcoming atmosphere.”
Rob Messing of Milford said the cafe gives people the chance to try new games without buying them.
Eric Mason, who was playing chess, said it’s a nice way to play games without being “cooped up” at home.
Barbara Wilson and a friend, Barbara Abrams, stopped in to play word games and said they’re looking forward to returning with a bottle of wine.
“It brings people together, which we need desperately today,” Wilson said
Abrams said the place has a European flair
“It’s a community thing. It’s friendly,” she said.
In his previous professional life, McConnell worked in the medical research field at Northwestern University in Chicago. He and his wife, Hanna Tedros, moved to Connecticut for her corporate job and he got a job at Yale University that wasn’t his cup of tea. The two have a 2-year-old daughter.
McConnell was a longtime board game fan and had his interest in a board game cafe piqued when they visited one while in Toronto.
Seeing he wasn’t personally fulfilled with the job here — and had the cafe idea on his mind — his wife said “do it,” McConnell said.
“We were fortunate enough to be in a position” to try it, McConnell said.
So with the help of Community Investment Corp. in Hamden and a mentor through SCORE, McConnell made it happen, he said.
“There’s a broader appeal for board games than there was 10 years ago,” McConnell said. “There’s a lot of energy in the board game industry — a lot of fun stuff.”
Hawkwood is the name of a character he created and played in the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game.
He said while board game establishments aren’t common in the area, there is one in New Haven called Elm City Games and in Middletown there is the Board Room. The owners of each were helpful with advice, he said.
McConnell said people like sitting around and talking as they play games and may even make connections with a group playing.
He said board games can be expensive, so some people like to try them out before spending $40-$60.
“You can come here with your family to play games and it’s cheaper than a movie and much more interactive,” McConnell said.
The cafe has an area for kids younger than 5 to play with blocks and other toys, as well as games, so parents can play. There is a parent happy hour on Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. — parents get free cup of coffee.
People can also have parties at Hawkwood Game Cafe, and the business also has special nights of play listed on the wall, including an open table night, a Dungeons & Dragons night and a Pokemon afternoon.
The café is open from 3 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.