Mer Weinhold is an Ottawa-dwelling writer, editor, book reviewer, and costuming enthusiast. You can follow them on Twitter.
Video games are a solitary pursuit for some people, but gaming cafes appeal to our social sides. Ottawa’s newest one, Caffeine 1UP, is doing a few things differently.
Describing the business as “a cafe first, that also has video games,” owner Heather Powell is excited about having recently opened for business. She first picked up a video game controller at age 4, and has 12 years of coffee shop experience, so Caffeine 1UP combines her passions.
“I’ve been working on this for 3 years. I did a lot of research, I went to a lot of Invest Ottawa stuff — super helpful for young entrepreneurs, they helped me figure things out– and I looked at different neighbourhoods before I chose Sandy Hill. I think this ward will really benefit from local businesses like this. I’m hoping to have a nice community neighbourhood space.”
In this case, that means a commitment to sourcing local baked goods. Caffeine 1UP offers a full range of coffee shop drinks and provides snacks and light meals.
“I’m really proud of my tea and coffee, and I’m training everyone to be a full-service barista. I’m getting baked goods from Strawberry Blonde, building my community relationships with local bakeries, and making my sandwiches in-house so I have vegan, gluten-free, and vegetarian options.”
Since the soft open on September 12th, business is slowly picking up. By choosing not to have a liquor licence, Caffeine 1UP hopes to appeal to families, younger university students, and other community members.
“I’m getting a lot of students, even high school students, because I’m not kicking them out at 9:00 pm like pubs have to. The community support and social media have been great, so I’m really pumped about that! I’m trying to let everyone in the neighbourhood know that there’s an independent cafe here now.”
To bring the social side of gaming to the forefront, Caffeine 1UP has a wide selection of multiplayer games, as well as older consoles for anyone who wants to revisit their childhood.
“The retro systems are especially good for social gaming, they have all the best split-screen games. Plus nostalgia is such a big thing — people are like “Oh my gosh, there’s GoldenEye on N64!” It’s great when I see parents showing their kids how to play Duck Hunt — and I even have a CRT TV, so it actually works.”
Or if none of your friends or family are gamers and you want to meet new people, there’s a table set aside for exactly that.
“There’s one table near the counter called LFG, Looking for Group. If you’re by yourself you can sit there, and anyone is welcome to join in. So people can make friends — or a nemesis depending how the game goes! The happiest moment I’ve seen so far was last week. An older gentleman, a younger student, and another guy came in, all of them solo. They all ended up converging at the same table and playing together.”
Once she’s gotten through the grand opening on September 26th, Powell is going to start hosting regular events and tournaments, including a monthly ladies’ night.
“Since I’m a female-owned gaming store, I have an inside perspective on how isolating it can be in this largely male-dominated field, so I want to make it more welcoming. I don’t want it to be a guys’ club all the time — which is still awesome, because they get rowdy when they play and it can be fun, but I don’t want girls to just sit back and watch. I want them to get involved too! So once a month I’m going to have a ladies’ night where women play for free. I want this to be a safe, harassment-free spot for everyone.”
If you’re yearning for the games of your youth, want to unwind and have a bite to eat, or just want to find out if caffeine enhances your reaction time in Mario Kart, stop by Caffeine 1UP and check it out.