Old-school face time stars at West 25th Street gaming cafe

Although Shiva Risner has had a lease in hand for Tabletop Board Game Café, 1810 West 25th Street, since last August, the much-anticipated opening of the old-school-meets-hip venue wasn't until last Friday, when all the snafus were finally behind her.
"The roughest moment was when we were ready to get construction started," says Risner, "and we found out we didn't have the right zoning."
Nail biting ensued, but after compromising with the zoning board over parking and having the appropriate hearings, Shiva and partners Michael and Brady Risner (who is also her husband) were able to get the zoning changed from a retail to restaurant designation.
The newly renovated 2,000-square-foot space seats 68. The build out, which started in late January, included installation of ADA compliant bathrooms, a small prep kitchen and a bar. Shiva and her co-owners did as much work as possible, including building the bar, painting, and installing trim among other tasks. Casey Graor of CNG Construction LLC, however, did the heavy work.
"He's the only contractor I ever met who is always on time and always picks up his phone," says Risner. "That was very refreshing for us."
While privately financed, the project garnered $9,500 in Kickstarter support. Risner also got two storefront grants, one from the city of Cleveland and another from Ohio City Inc. Each were $3,000 for a total of $6,000. Signature Sign Co. constructed the signs for Tabletop, which will initially have two full-time and 10 part-time employees.
Hours are from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Admission is free before 3 p.m. on weekdays and $5 after 3 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends.
Upwards of a thousand games, from Kingdom Builder (one of Risner's favorites) to Connect Four, are ready for play. There's no check out policy or limit on gaming; patrons are invited to pluck a game from the shelves and have at it. In between moves, Tabletop staff will be offering up nibbles such as the Avocado Bravado Sandwich and Buff Chick Dip.
"It's our house made Buffalo chicken cheese dip," says Risner. "It's comfort food: indulgent and delicious." She recommends washing it down with a Left Hand Milk Stout or a Fine Dog 60 Minute IPA, although she advises, "We are going to be changing beers a lot."
Risner, a 2014 Bad Girl Ventures graduate, describes herself as someone who's "bounced from one thing to another," with stints studying biology and law. She even took the bar exam.
"I kept finding all these things were not for me," she says. "I did want to do something of my own, and have ownership."
Then at her bachelorette party in Toronto, she found it. The group of 12 ladies went to Snakes & Lattes Café, which Risner describes as "the most successful board game café in North America." She watched on as everyone in her party started to, well, have a blast.
"The girls were different in age, different in interests. A lot of them didn't know one another," she says, but pretty soon, "Everyone was laughing. It set the pace for the rest of the weekend."
Hence, with a little nudge from her then-fiancé Brady, the idea for Tabletop was born.
"At first, it started with us just talking about it, but it's turned into a reality."
Now that it has, Risner hopes to cater to the local board game community, but she has loftier goals as well.
"We want to bring board games to the general public, maybe to people who wouldn't consider themselves avid board gamers. Board games are about social interaction," she says, noting that old school face time is on the decline as our reliance on technology and social media grows.
"People don't realize what they've been missing," she says, hoping plenty of them will drop into her new Ohio City storefront and give gaming a shot.
"They really will have a great time."

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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