Danni Tam was not a board game enthusiast growing up, but after meeting her husband she discovered a love for board games. Now she runs a board game café with another couple and hopes to expand the business in the future.
Tam’s career didn’t start with cafés, but rather catering, as she first attended catering college in England. In 1995 she moved to Canada and worked at Earls where she met her husband, John. They quickly became friends but didn’t start dating until years later.
Together they frequented board game cafés on their travels, including one in Victoria called Interactivity.
“My husband and I spent three hours there,” said Tam. “I had a blast, I loved it and I just thought it was amazing and I was questioning why Calgary didn’t have one yet.”
The Tams partnered with their friends Yvonne and Shea in November 2015 to open up a board game café in Calgary.
Marda Loop was their ideal place to open the business, so it was perfect when a local restaurant left the area.
They wanted to have a short and catchy name for their café, but coming up with the perfect one proved to be much harder than they thought. It wasn’t until almost opening night that they fell in love with a name.
“I remember we had a meeting at our house where John pitched the name Pips which was kind of cute, and then we all just kind of froze, and we knew that was the one,” Tam says.
The name accurately describes the business, as Pips is the dots on a dice or domino as well as the suit on playing cards.
Both couples donated their board game collections to Pips, and many other games were soon donated to the café’s as well. They also buy board games from distributors and are always finding new games to continue to provide a variety of options for all kinds of gamers.
“We have a very diverse customer base. From the big-time board gamers to people that aren’t so much, which brings in lots of families,” Tam says.
One of Pips gamemasters, Renée Haverhals, also notices the different types of customers that come to Pips. Haverhals’ job is to know the café’s game library and give recommendations and instructions to the customers.
Some people come in having done research on what games they want to play and how to play them. There are also those who prefer to read the rules themselves, and those who are drawn to the classics that don’t need explaining.
“There are people who just come in and they want to hang out with friends and they look at the games and see something they haven’t played in a while like Clue, Jenga, or Battleship and they decide to start a game,” remarks Haverhals.
Haverhals has always loved board games because of her mom’s belief in playing board games instead of watching TV.
By comparison, Aleaha Florence, a Pips employee, didn’t apply because of a love for board games. She was hoping to get a job in the Marda Loop area and had walked in not knowing much about Pips. She was hired on the spot and now Pips has become a big part of her life.
“I love the owners and I love all my coworkers,” says Florence. “It's not like your typical restaurant, it's a different concept. People are generally really happy when you're serving them, and they're having fun. There's not a huge amount of pressure, it's pretty laid back and I really like that.”
The café’s environment changes depending on the time of day. During the day, it’s a quieter feel as it’s not very busy. People are on computers, they might have meetings or team building exercises happening. While the nights, especially weekends, are much different.
“You come in on a Friday or Saturday night, we’re open until 1:00 a.m., and you’ve got the music bumping, Jenga pieces are flying off tables and people are roaring with laughter,” Tam says.
This is Tam’s favourite part of owning Pips. She finds it exhilarating to see the chaos of people having fun and enjoying themselves. She wants to share this with as many people as she can and would love to open another location.
“It’s been hard work, I’m not going to lie. But I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else,” says Tam. “I think we all love doing this and we love bringing this to Calgarians and I actually love board games now.”
- By Hailey Payne