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Evolution of Play

A board-game café sounds like a niche business appealing mainly to millennials with a fondness for ironic nostalgia. But the crowd at Shuffles is more diverse than that.

Article
John Tranchina
Photos
Sarah Eliza Roberts
Posted
June 28, 2019

It’s not only a coffee shop, but it’s also a bar. Even more so, it’s a delicious restaurant. But what makes Shuffles Board Game Café distinctive are the games.

Located downtown at 207 E. Archer (between Detroit and Cincinnati) in the southeast corner of the Tulsa Arts District, Shuffles fills a unique niche.

Owner Eric Fransen, a former math professor who opened a furniture business 14 years ago (Fransen Furniture), thought about opening a restaurant and combined that with his love of board games to come up with the concept for Shuffles.  

“It’s a lot of spinning plates, and then I decided to open a restaurant because I didn’t have enough to do,” Fransen jokes. “I usually can’t sit still very long; I get it from my grandmother. So Shuffles is a full restaurant, a full coffee shop, a full bar, a full retail program, and a full event space. It was born out of pretty much love of board gaming, and I wanted to design the space and put my stuff in here to make it work for board gaming. Board gaming, coffee, booze, and food, the nexus of all those things is kind of what Shuffles is.”

Customers can select from an extensive board game library that contains over 700 titles. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)
Customers can select from an extensive board game library that contains over 700 titles. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)

As a restaurant, Fransen acknowledges that having guests stay for upward of 2-3 hours while they play games may not be the smartest business plan, but it makes for a fun outing.

“It’s a foolish idea, from the point of view of a restaurant — my table times are two-plus hours. That’ll cripple any restaurant,” Fransen says. “But we’ve done a lot of things to mitigate that. I have hourly charges on our busy nights. I have game passes. There is unlimited gaming for $6 most nights, and half price Tuesdays. You never have to pay to come in here and eat [before playing].”

The fees to play games are still very reasonable at $6 per person on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Sundays. It’s just $3 on Tuesdays, and $5 per hour Friday and Saturday nights after 6 p.m.

Customers can select from an extensive board game library that contains over 700 titles. There are new games, old games, kids’ games, and adult games — everything from Hungry Hungry Hippos, Uno and Mouse Trap for the kids, to old favorites like Battleship, Monopoly, Scrabble and various renditions of Risk, to more complicated ones like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and even Dungeons & Dragons. And just about everything in between.

In addition to beer and wine, the well-stocked bar has tons of different rum, whiskey, vodka, and scotch options, as well as many different mixed drink choices. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)
In addition to beer and wine, the well-stocked bar has tons of different rum, whiskey, vodka, and scotch options, as well as many different mixed drink choices. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)

And if you are one of those people who gets paralyzed by having too many options, the pleasant and engaging waitstaff will help you choose a game, or even bring you one that seems appropriate for your group (and it undoubtedly will be).

You can even buy games there. They have over 150 different games available to purchase, in addition to being able to play them in the restaurant.

Fransen points out just how popular board games are becoming again, noting that there are similar establishments in other cities around the country, many of which he visited before opening to get a feel for how they operated.

“We want to validate the hobby because there are over 5,000 new games that come out every year; it’s about a $4 billion industry. And that’s new games,” Fransen says. “This is said a lot, but we are in a board gaming renaissance. It’s a cliché in the board gaming world. So we go to conventions — the management staff and I — around the nation. We buy all the hot games from each convention.”

The food menu, overseen by Matt Shipley, includes tasty items like burgers, sandwiches, chicken, and salads, as well as an excellent slate of appetizers. In addition to beer and wine, the well-stocked bar has tons of different rum, whiskey, vodka, and scotch options, as well as many different mixed drink choices, although if you order a Mule, it won’t come in a copper mug. Of course, there’s also coffee and milkshakes of different flavors, including some with alcohol, if you’re so inclined.

And all the décor is unique, with everything designed and custom-built by Fransen and his furniture shop, including the tables, chairs, light fixtures and shelving.

And while Shuffles is an ideal setting for date night or a fun get-together with a large group of friends, it can also be an excellent place for corporate team-building. Fransen is actively promoting Shuffles as an ideal setting for workplace bonding by hosting company gatherings, including Christmas parties.

“If there’s stress between co-workers in the workplace and you play a game, the stress is now indirect, because you interact with the game first,” Fransen says. “It’s almost like going to a psychiatrist and interacting with a teddy bear. I thought about these things quite a lot. You have crisis management, time management, leadership, cooperation, all kinds of synergies that might develop in a corporate setting.”

And for many of the same reasons, Fransen is also putting together a summer camp for kids, whom he believes would benefit significantly by working through similar issues, while also having fun.

“We want to push this as a way to critical thinking, lateral thinking, conflict resolution, and time management,” he says. “All these things are great for both adults and children, either in a summer camp or a corporate setting.”

LOCATOR
Shuffles Board Game Café
207 E. Archer | Tulsa
918-728-7252
shufflestulsa.com
Monday-Thursday: 4-11 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

September 2019 Cover