This week we’re heading up to Hudson NY to talk to Kathleen Miller of House Rules Cafe!
What was the catalyst for opening the House Rules Cafe?
I’ve been a gamer since forever. My sister and I grew up playing board and card games with our friends and each other. I identified as a geek from a young age and dealt with the usual bullying and alienation for being a woman, being a geek, and being a gamer. The bullying, along with misogyny, assault, and the usual, drove me away from gaming, and my career went in other directions (I’m a sommelier with restaurant and retail experience). For all that, the idea of having a business centered around my geeky loves was always in the back of my mind. A few years ago, I discovered Snakes & Lattes. All three of my loves in one place: food, wine, and gaming. It wasn’t much of a step from that to deciding to open a board game cafe, and putting in the work to create a business plan and find the space.
Well, that’s always been the Official Story. What actually provided the catalyst was that I was getting tired of working for other people, and having some ethical issues with the spirits industry. I also wanted to be able to actually use my voice and privilege to make the world a better place, and my former position didn’t give me enough pull to really make any substantial change. I’d had the idea for a restaurant for a long time, and a few days of research informed me of this (relatively) new industry of board game cafes. A lot of research, a lot of writing, and a lot of money later, here we are.
How do you promote inclusivity at your store?
We promote inclusivity by living it, as trite as that sounds. My husband and I have always had a diverse group of friends, and we’ve always migrated towards people who don’t fit into the standard demographics. I identify as queer, as do many of our closest friends. I’m neurodivergent, as are some of my gaming circle, and we are a go-to spot for several local organizations like COARC and Camphill. If there is something we need to change, in order to make someone more comfortable, we will do our best to accommodate. I’ve been working to put together programming with local schools as well as local youth programs. We host discussions about race, gender, and sexuality. Our nascent book club is focused on the speculative fiction written by women, people of color, and gender and sexual minorities. The entire goal of the cafe is to promote gaming to a wider community.
I could continue the list of what we do, but what it comes down to is respect. We insist that everyone who walks through our doors respects the existence and humanity of all, and we enforce that if necessary. Sometimes, for all our effort, we fail, and sometimes, we aren’t able to accommodate. The best example is in regards to our gluten-free menu items: although we offer gluten-free bread, and we have many items on the menu which are naturally gluten-free, we are a small kitchen that works with wheat flours and wheat products on a daily basis. It is impossible for us to fully isolate a meal from contamination. But we are upfront about this, and would rather lose a sale than cause someone harm.
Why do you think FLGSs are important?
Friendly Local Gaming Stores, when representative of the community they serve, are amazing. There are few that I am comfortable in. We may not have the retail side of our business set up quite yet, but we plan to introduce gaming to the wider community through demos, a hand-selected collection, and good recommendations, based on what the customer likes. It’s less about pushing specific games and more about finding the right match for someone. This goes back to my years as a sommelier and retail wine expert. I might personally be drinking some weird natural wine from a region that no one has heard of, made of some ancient grape that grows in one small area of the world, but the average customer wants something more recognizable, with a name they can pronounce and without needing an entire Wine 101 lecture to enjoy. It’s up to me to bridge that gap, find something that is familiar but stretches the customer’s experience a bit.
What is the most important experience you want people to take away from House Rules Cafe?
I want gamers to stretch their experiences a bit. I want them to actively seek out groups of people they wouldn’t normally gravitate towards. I want to see, well, a lot of what I see here on a regular basis. Multiple languages are spoken at different tables, parents and kids playing with old-school gamers, a group of young adults getting introduced to a new cooperative game, an individual being welcomed at a table and drawn into a game they love.