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ICYMI: New café serves up quality time and a taste of nostalgia

A local couple rolls the dice on a new venture that aims to bring the community together

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is part of a new BurlingtonToday series — 'THIS IS BURLINGTON' — that showcases the people, places, organizations and businesses that make our city so special. Click HERE to read every story in the series, which will run throughout the month of November. This article originally ran on Nov. 29, 2023.

Local gamers – board gamers, that is – are in luck.

George and Sophia Zeng have turned their fondness for games into something everyone can enjoy, and they are delighted when they see Nostalgia Games Café filled with people spending time together.

Sophia, a civil engineering graduate who studied at Queen's University continues to work full-time toward becoming a professional civil engineer. George, was a data scientist who graduated from the University of Ottawa and now runs the cafe full time. Julie Slack

When they opened the café in early November, their goal was to create a welcoming place where families, friends or solos can stop in to play a board game, enjoy a tea or snack on some freshly made popcorn.

They’ve certainly been successful in doing just that.

With themed evenings, card gurus and chess lovers have been coming out to connect with old friends and make new ones; Tuesday is chess, Thursday is euchre, Sunday is wildcard game night, meaning a different game is played every Sunday.

The couple, both engineers who hail from the Ottawa area, met in school when Sophia ran her own window-cleaning business to help cover the costs of university. She placed a job announcement online, and George applied for the role.

Sophia laughs when she explains that she needed someone tall and strong to help with the hard work, and George measured up. Needless to say, the young entrepreneurs hit it off.

During the pandemic, they moved to central Burlington near the Fairview GO station. But they found it tough to meet new people and make friends.

“We felt as though Burlington had a lack of third spaces, so we decided to open a board game cafe,” George said. “We’re pretty sure it’s the first of its kind (here)."

“We don’t do the bar scene and in conversations with friends, we felt this could be a success,” Sophia added.

They wanted to create a space that would get people off their electronic devices. Sitting around a table with friends creates direct interaction, something they both agree is lacking in today’s fast-paced world.

Hence, the name of the café. Who doesn’t like to be reminded of their childhood, when simpler times meant a night of Sorry or Old Maid would lead to a raucous time with friends or family?

“A lot of families are coming in and it’s nice to hear them laughing and having fun together,” said Sophia noting the shop is within walking distance for a lot of residents in the Mountain Grove area.

George and Sophia Zeng have rolled the dice on the board game trend. They've sourced fair-trade coffee for the cafe. Julie Slack

They’ve also tried to immerse themselves in the community, partnering with local businesses to create a neighbourhood hub. They’re selling local artwork that doubles as decor, and during the Christmas season, they’re also selling local hand-made ornaments that decorate their tree.

“We offer something for everyone, whether you’re a seasoned strategist, a casual player or just stopping by for a coffee,” said George, who stressed that people can just pop in for a coffee or snack without playing any games.

Located at 2178 Mountain Grove Ave. next door to Ireland House Museum, Nostalgia Games Café charges a $5 cover – board game cover – for each person playing (children five and under play free) that allows patrons to play as many games as they like for as long as they’d like, until closing.

Board game cafés have become popular across the United States and the UK, trending as the original social network. Tabletop games like Catan and the railway game Ticket to Ride are becoming more popular, especially since the all-too well-remembered days of pandemic lock downs.

This young couple is betting on it.

With a collection of almost 100 games, arranged alphabetically on shelves, there’s something for all ages to enjoy.

Nostalgia Games Café has the most-recently trending games, along with perennial favourites such as Scrabble, Monopoly, Go Fish, Battleship, Uno, Connect Four and Risk.

They carry a variety of beverages, from cappuccinos to bubble tea - or an ice cream float for a bit of nostalgia. Snacks, candies and chips, along with home-made cookies and pies are among the items on the menu. They also sell mugs and Nostalgia-theme merchandise such as shopping totes.

And while they have a tough time choosing their favourite menu item, Sophia and George agree on their favourite games: Catan, Ticket to Ride, chess and euchre.

They also hope that companies and small businesses will take advantage of the chance to spend time together with employees in a social setting.

Nostalgia Games Café is open Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 4 to 10 p.m.

George and Sophia Zeng interact with Monopoly players Nicholas (left) and Nathan Campbell along with Laura Connell. Julie Slack


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