Up & Coming Weekly

June 21, 2022

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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Page 11 of 28

WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM JUNE 22 - 28, 2022 UCW 11 Game On crafts community through card games, coffee by KATHLEEN RAMSEY It's 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 11, when most places see a lull in custom- ers; Game On, a hobby and game cafe located off Reilly Road, is packed. e parking lot of the nondescript building is full, and game lovers are finding their way to the overflow parking lot on the side and the back of the building. e sign on the door holds an unusual duo of advertisements for Pokemon and coffee. e shop is packed with both young and old, an eclectic mix of peo- ple perusing cards, dice and boxes of games. In the back of the cafe are long tables, placed at a measured distance, one after the other. e gamers stand rolling dice and leaning forward to place items onto the tables and make their moves. e groups are huddled around the various tables. e playing is quiet and intense — each player so wholly immersed in what's going on on the table that they hardly notice those around the counter, picking out cards from beneath the glass. In a room at the front of the store, a Game On sign is displayed on the top of a bookshelf. e room is filled with posters, but the most noticeable thing in the room is the sign. It sits as a relic of the company's journey. is sign is different from the one that is now proudly displayed on the front of the store. It's thick-lettered and all black except for a white O. e white O looks intentional, but it wasn't. e two owners, husband and wife, Ryker and Sara Taylor, sit just beyond and laugh about its origins. "It was originally an American Burger Barn sign except for the O. We just had a limited amount of funds for a sign. We were a start-up. We pieced together parts of a sign for $500 off eBay," Ryker said. When they got the big sign, Sara said, it was a huge celebration for the entirety of the company. Now, those driving by would finally be able to see them and the sign. ey were moving up. e business was becoming more sustainable. Sara and Ryker started their business about 18 months ago, in the winter of 2020, during the height of the pan- demic. Ryker, who always loved Magic the Gathering, did research and found that during times of recession, enter- tainment venues seemed to continue to thrive. "It was so smart because there was nothing out here that was open doing this … it brings people together, online or in-person," Sara said. And really, the business started before the doors opened. Ryker admits he did what they call "back pack vend- ing" — buying and selling cards out of a backpack. It allowed him to continue his love of card playing with business- related benefits. On the other hand, Sara grew up in Washington and around coffee stands. She always wanted to get into the cof- fee business. "My mom was always going to the coffee stand. We started with one espresso machine and four sides. Once we combined Red Bull with Italian sides, the cafe exploded," Sara said. She tears up as she talks about the growth and the changes. She is proud of how far the coffee portion of the business has come. On that busy Saturday, many cus- tomers come in and head straight to the cafe in the shop. ey look over the menu and place their orders, patiently waiting for their custom drinks to be ready. e names are often combined with game characters — like Dragonite, a combination of Strawberries and Dragon Fruit. Each drink looks a little different from the last, but most are colorful. "e coffee stuff was something I always wanted to do. We are making enough money where we can try any- thing we want to try. It has been really fun. It's like being a chef in a way," Sara said. She collapses her hands together as she talks to counterbalance her energy. "Tell us what you like, and we'll work from there." It is clear that some people come for the drinks, some come for the games and others do a bit of both. Perhaps it has something to do with the caffeine in some drinks or the combination of fruity flavors and added energy. Sara and Ryker's drink add-in, Lotus, is equivalent to a Red Bull. Caffeine and a long, competitive card game can go well together. e shop, which sits only minutes outside Fort Bragg, is the perfect loca- tion for Ryker, an active duty soldier. When asked about moving and if it makes them nervous, Sara and Ryker shoot each other a look. "Oh yeah," they say in almost unison. ey laugh, but ultimately both are hopeful to be stationed at Fort Bragg for many more years. If not, Sara says, they feel like they have the right staff that could continue things on with them being in a different area. "We trust that we would be able to continue to run this," she said. "We have been really lucky to get such a good group of people here." Sara and Ryker both put in a lot of hours at the shop. Ryker puts in be- tween 60 to 80 hours, while Sara clocks in about 40 to 50. e duo have two kids at home to juggle, along with the business and Ryker's full-time job. e rewards, however, outweigh the added stresses of being a business owner. "My favorite part is interacting with the customers and the area. e amount of people that wouldn't have been in the same place at the same time and fostering that relationship …" Sara gets emotional and trails off for a second. She wipes her eyes and contin- ues, "We get a lot of different crowds in here … I can't hold it together." Sara wipes her eyes again as she and Ryker both laugh. ey hold many events at the hobby and game cafe, including one-shot adventures on Tuesdays and Pokemon leagues for kids on Saturdays. e Pokemon League is free; parents can bring their kids in and learn about the card game and how to build decks. e shop even has Professor George, a cer- tified Pokemon professor, to teach the kids. Above all, Ryker says, they teach good sportsmanship. When asked why they offer it free, Sara and Ryker have a quick and easy answer — "community building." "From a mom's point of view, there's not a lot to do when it's hot out," Sara said. Ryker got into competitive Magic the Gathering games and is the Team Captain for the U.S. Army's E-Sports Program for Magic the Gathering. For the Army, this is more of an exposure and recruiting effort, showing those in- terested in what the Army has to offer. For the Taylors, they aren't quite at the place where they take a check. ey said, first and foremost, they want to ensure they are paying their staff well and secondly, they love being a part of the community in this way. "e nerd community that people kind of hide from, the whole having a place where people can come and be themselves," Ryker said. e business, so far, even without a paycheck for the owners, is doing well. e community is noticing them just driving by, and some people come in for just the coffee. "Hard work beats out knowledge. If you are willing to come and work the hours … I am not smarter than anyone else. I am just willing to work harder. I am willing to dump hours into it to make it successful without taking a wage." Ryker smiles as he talks. And once again, they both mention how lucky they are to have their team. As Ryker says, they "crush" it. And whether it's for coffee, games or a place where there are actually Pokemon cards in stock, Game On as a whole is crushing it. KATHLEEN RAMSEY,Contributing Writer. COMMENTS? editor@upand- comingweekly.com. 910-484-6200. Above left: Owners Sara and Ryker Taylor pose behind a counter of Pokemon cards at their business Game On — Hobby Shop and Cafe , June 15. Above right: Game On — Hobby Shop and Cafe offers a variety of crafted beverages, both traditional and with character themes, June 15. (Photos by Isaiah Jones) Below: e original shop sign was cobbled together from old signs purchased on eBay and remains in the shop as a reminder of humble beginnings. (Photo by Kathleen Ramsey) FEATURE

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