“Games aren’t just for hardcore nerds, everyone can enjoy them,” Vanessa Briceño tells me, hitting on a theme that will come up over and over again in our discussion about Tea + Victory, the new board game cafe opening up in the Heights later this spring. Briceño and her husband Jason Bush, along with their partner Meghan Rega, are the minds behind Tea + Victory, and are hoping that their spot will not just be a cool place to grab a bite, but a place people can go to enjoy a hobby that’s having a resurgence over the past few years. “We sort of want to be an ambassador for games,” she continues.
Board game cafes are not new, even if they are new to Houston. You can find them in cities around the globe, full to the brim with great food and great games. It was the lack of them in the city the size of Houston that got Briceño and company interested in opening one themselves, after arriving back in Houston from New York, where she was getting a master's degree in game design.
“For about a year and a half after we got back, it was like, ‘It be really nice if Houston had a board game cafe. Why doesn’t Houston have a board game cafe? It’s so big, it should have one,’” she says. “And it got to a point in our careers where it was like, ‘Well, we could do that instead if we want to have a board game cafe.’”
This led the group to host a series of events around the city to see if a board game cafe might be something Houston was interested in.
“We would have pop-ups at different breweries and bars that invited us,” Rega explains. “We started off doing that, collecting data to see what part of town people were from, what the age range was, were people interested. The answer was yes, they were interested, and there was a lot of interest in the Heights area.”
Located in what used to be a washateria at 2030 E. T.C. Jester—it’s the same strip that King’s Beirhaus calls home—Tea + Victory’s aesthetic is bright and welcoming, with large windows and pleasant colors on the walls. They’ll have over 600 games available for customers to check out, and have hired game guides to be on hand to help out those not sure where to start in the world of gaming. Yes, they’re essentially game sommeliers.
But just because they know games doesn’t mean they’re planning on slacking in the food department. They’re working with chef Ben McPherson on the menu and Matt Toomey of Boomtown Coffee on the coffee program—and yes, there will be tea options as well. They describe the menu as American nostalgia meets English comfort food—think grilled cheese sandwiches and bagel bites along with tea sandwiches and cottage pie. The focus on nostalgic eats goes back to the initial reactions people had when they told them what they were planning.
“For a lot of people, when we start talking about board games, they immediately flash back to their childhoods. ‘Yeah, I played Monopoly in my basement and my mom would bring us pizza rolls!’” says Briceño. “We were like, ‘Let’s tie that in, like make it feel like when you were a little kid, but better.'”
Of course, if you’re planning on having people playing board games and eating, there are certain things you have to keep in mind when designing a menu.
“We don’t want to have messy food that you have a knife and fork for, and there’s pieces of lettuce flying everywhere, or your hands are covered in Doritos dust,” Briceño explains.
Still, while they clearly love games, they don’t want Tea + Victory to be a spot that’s exclusively for gamers.
“We want the food and drink to stand on its own. You can be someone who is like, ‘I’m not that interested in games but I really like the food and I’m going to go here and eat,’” says Briceño.