In the world of board gaming, and specifically board game cafes, Snakes & Lattes is king. One of the most well-known board game cafes in the world, and likely the first one in North America, Snakes’ star has been on the rise since it started its domination of the Toronto gaming scene almost 10 years ago.
As you might know, we (Meeple Mountain) are in the process of opening a full-service board game cafe in Nashville. To that end we’ve been visiting board game cafes in other cities, like Victory Point Cafe in Berkeley, Well Played in Asheville, and Tabletop in Columbus to do market research and spend time with owners and management at these locations. This past week we finally had a chance to take a long-anticipated trip to the fount of all board gaming wisdom, Snakes & Lattes.
Our primary goal was to get a feel for how they ran their business. What works, or didn’t work, and why. How do they manage staffing, their kitchen, marketing, etc.? How do they take care of their games, how did they decide to institute a cover charge, and other types of questions.
In this article I wanted to take a few minutes and document the Meeple Mountain crew’s trip to the Great White North. We traveled 1500 miles round trip, spent over 12 hours sitting in board game cafes, and stuffed ourselves with poutine and donut cones just to serve the Nashville board gaming community. Was it worth it? Read on to find out! 😀
Outbound Flight and Lodging
Because we had been monitoring flights to Toronto for some time were able to get an excellent deal on the trip. Round trip tickets to Toronto for around $180 USD was a great deal and we couldn’t pass them up. So we scheduled our trip for January 11-13. Our flight left Nashville on Thursday morning and our excitement was evident and infectious.
Because Nashville’s public transportation options are so limited we Nashvillians decided to travel by train into downtown Toronto’s Union Station, a massive transit hub in the center of the city.
We were fortunate to get a really inexpensive Airbnb in the Kensington Market area, and we were set. Our trip was so short that we were really only there to sleep, but it was still nice and cozy and perfect for our needs.
Snakes & Lattes
After stopping at our Airbnb to drop off our bags we immediately walked over to the Snakes & Lattes College location. It was cold and rainy, but we felt the pull of Snakes like a lodestone.
Snakes & Lattes College is their second location and offers over 5,000 sq feet of restaurant space, open gaming, and retail. The color scheme is pastels with nice light wooden furniture, gleaming chrome fixtures, and a full menu.
We spent 6 hours at the College location eating, drinking, gaming, and peppering our waiter George with questions about their point of sale system, their menu, interior decor, and many other questions.
On Friday afternoon we headed over to Snakes & Lattes original location, Annex.
After introducing ourselves we were escorted back to a staff staging area and got a chance to meet Steve Tassie, Snakes head game curator, whom many see as the face of Snakes & Lattes. We had a great time discussing the management and curation of a board game collection which collectively hovers near the 4,000 game mark (for all three locations).
He answered many of our questions about the care and keeping of games, as well as giving us a personal lesson in coaching for the game Marrakech, one of his favorites.
After spending some time talking to Steve, we met with Steve and Lindsay, two members of Snakes management staff. They were incredibly generous with their time and spent almost two hours answering our questions. We were quite energized by their openness and willingness to offer their experience and insight.
Our final fun moment of the evening was getting a chance to meet, and spend time, with Christopher Chung, designer of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.
We’ve been friends with Christopher on Twitter for years. When he found out we were visiting Toronto he came to meet up with us. He even demoed his upcoming Spell Smashers game for us. It’s basically a word based dungeon crawler. Think Scrabble meets Gloomhaven! Look out for this one coming out around Gen Con from a publisher we all know and love.
When we first arrived at Snakes Annex around 3pm the location was less than half full, but by the time we stepped out of our meeting with Steve and Lindsay the place was packed.
Board Game Bliss
We had a few hours to kill on Friday morning before our meeting with the Snakes & Lattes GMs so we decided to make the trek from central Toronto all the way out to Scarborough where the online retailer Board Game Bliss’ store/warehouse is located. Fully a 30 minute highway drive from downtown Toronto, it’s still considered part of the city.
Since Board Game Bliss is a Canadian retailer they have access to games that the US either doesn’t get at all or won’t get for months to come. We were floored by the selection and spent several hours wandering the aisles, talking to AJ (the friendly salesperson), and of course buying games. The US dollar is strong against the Canadian dollar right now and our purchases went much further than they would in the states, especially since the prices at Board Game Bliss are so competitive to begin with.
We found some great items and came back with our suitcases full of gaming goodness. We even ran across a giant copy of Codenames. Look at the size of that box!
Late Night Snacking
Toronto is one of the largest cities in North America. Among the perks cities like that have are great late night “hole in the wall” places for good eats.
Poutine at Smokes Poutinerie
When we told Torontonians we wanted to eat poutine many of them directed us to Smokes Poutinerie, a tiny place serving one of Canada’s most famous dishes. After we left the Snakes & Lattes Annex location on Friday night we walked straight to Smokes.
For the uninitiated poutine is french fries, topped with cheese curds, smothered in a thick and sumptuous gravy. The traditional poutine stops there, but Smokes offers a plethora of options including Korean BBQ, Indian Butter Chicken, and vegetarian options. We went with the traditional, the bacon cheeseburger, and the chicken bacon ranch. As you might expect this is a seriously filling dish. We had to leave room for our next snack.
Donut Cones at Eva’s Original
In addition to telling us about Smokes, our Canadian friend Clinton recommended a great little ice cream place called Eva’s Original.
Eva’s sells soft serve ice cream served in a traditional Hungarian pastry called a chimney cake, but with a twist. A chimney cake is dough wrapped around a wooden rod, left to rise, sprinkled with sugar, then roasted over a charcoal fire.
Eva’s Original skips the charcoal fire in favor of a propane burner and forms the traditional chimney shape into a cone to hold delicious treats. We got the Thai Mango Sticky Rice, the Banoffee Pie, and the Dream Cone and they were terrific. Because the cone was so deep, they were able to layer the ingredients giving you multiple layers of flavor in each bite. Delicious.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. After a late night of great food, good friends, and gaming we woke up at 6am to head to the airport. It was super cold, but thankfully it was no longer snowing. That meant the streets were clear and we had no issues arriving on time. If you ever fly out of Toronto’s Pearson International, make sure you allow PLENTY of time to go through security and customs.
Our direct flight was a relatively small plane so we had a bit of a unique experience for this day and age. We got to walk out onto the tarmac and climb the stairs to board the plane.
The aircraft was fairly small which meant that two of the three of us, who are taller than average, had to duck, even when walking down the center of the plane.
No matter how far you go, or how much fun you have, there’s no place quite like home. Our trip was fun, fruitful, and full of learning, experience, and friendship.
It’s our goal to take all the things we learned while in Toronto and distill them down to an experience that Nashvillians can fall in love with. Keep your eyes open for news about Meeple Mountain Board Game Cafe, and hop on our mailing list to be kept in the loop about events and news surrounding our upcoming establishment.