Big Step for Barcade
photo © Wonho Photography by Wonho Frank Lee
Barcade, the pioneers of retro video game and craft beer bars just took a major step – a step that just took the Brooklyn-based company all the way across country to Los Angeles.
Having built their brand with locations in New York City, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, setting up shop in LA – Highland Park to be precise (northeast LA, before you get to Pasadena) – brought its own set of challenges.
“We were told one of the harder things to do is jumping time zones,” said Barcade CEO Paul Kermizian. “It’s not like any of our other locations where we can just zip over for any crisis. Every little problem was magnified.”
Why LA? Well, Aaron Ashby one of their GMs with 14 years at Barcade expressed an interest in moving his family out to southern California. “It was kind of like the perfect opportunity – we had someone on the ground out there that we trusted.” Ashby moved to LA partway through construction. “He helped us get to the finish line, helped us with the hiring and staffing and get up and and running,” Kermizian said.
That was back in May. After a couple of months things are humming along. Sure, with seven locations under their belt, these guys know what they’re doing. Did they change things up for glitzy LA?
“We don’t try and change for the local market too much. Every new store we say, wow this is our best location. It’s probably because each time we’re a little bigger, and we have a bit more money for the build-out.”
But the basic template remains the same. “There’s no table service and there’s metal playing on the speakers – we’re probably a little rough around the edges for LA. “In terms of curating the games, curating the beer list, and the food menu, we kind of just do what we know and put our brand out there and hope that people respond –as they have everywhere we’ve dropped one of these.”
They did have to do quite a bit of research into the LA beer market. “Beerwise we had to learn about a whole bunch of new breweries that we weren’t familiar with at all,” Kermizian said. “We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the beer. For the longest time LA didn’t have much of a craft beer scene but in the last five years it’s ticked up a lot.”
Barcade still stays true to its U.S.-only offerings, and that includes some core craft brands – Brooklyn, Dogfish Head, Victory, Bells and Abita for example – as well as the newer local breweries. “We’re still loyal to the old guard of the craft beer movement and breweries we’ve had relationships with for 15 years,” he said. “We have this issue in New York too. Everyone wants to pour the shiny new thing, but I feel like you have to resist that to some extent, because these other breweries that have been around a long time need the support of craft beer bars, mid-tier guys. We make a point of keeping them in our rotation.”
They also keep to the tradition of cask beer – at all locations.
One of the things that sets Barcade apart from other arcade bars is that they own all their own games – with three full time employees to purchase and service them. For LA they loaded two tractor-trailer loads of machines at their New Jersey warehouse. “That was a little nerve wracking,” said Kermizian. “We packed the games up, sent them out, then our games manager and I flew out to meet the trucks and unload them and get all the games into the space.”
Now that LA is open Kermizian says, “We got it done, so we’re definitely confident that we can open anywhere.” In the U.S. that is, they’re not thinking abroad – yet! Not resting on their laurels however, they’ve already started work on their next U.S. location – Detroit, scheduled for a fall 2019 opening. After that they’ll be looking closer to home, to “fortify our home markets a little bit.”
What better place to celebrate quality U.S. craft beer and get reacquainted with your favorite video games? Head on over to Barcade, 5684 York Blvd, Highland Park, (323) 274-4798.
Barcade will be celebrating their 15th anniversary at the original location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in October. Says Kermizian, “It’ll be an old-school strong beer event. We’ve been squirreling away kegs for years.” The 15 years will be celebrated at all the other Barcade locations as well.