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INSIDE DISH: Arsenal owners' ploy is gaming plus grubbing

March 4, 2011
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Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”

Our subject this week is Arsenal Game Room & Cafe, a gaming-and-gastronomic concept that percolated in the mind of Troy Branam for more than a decade before it finally took shape in 2007.



Belying its overtly militaristic moniker, Arsenal is something of a stealth restaurant concept. Its primary function is to serve as a meeting place for folks who enjoy role-playing and more traditional board games, but its primary source of sales is the "gamer grub" served from its homey kitchen, including homemade soups and desserts, and handmade sandwiches and pizzas. Some conjure fantasy-lit names such "Orc Stew" and "Wizards Gumbo."

Branam, a 49-year-old native of Bloomington, developed an interest in role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1980 to 1984. “It filled the time when we were in hostile areas. We’d hole up, play the game and pass the time.”

He moved to Indianapolis after leaving the military. In 1993, he began working at Carrier Corp., where he still works today full-time as a lab technician. Developing the germ of his idea for a game room, he studied business at Indiana Institute of Technology in the late 1990s and earned an associates degree in business management in 2000.

The plan for the game room really began taking shape in 2006, and by July 2007 Branam had leased a two-level, 3,000-square-foot storefront space at 874 Virginian Ave. in Fountain Square. He, his wife, Becky, and another husband-and-wife team of investors opened the room in September 2007 after a modest $30,000 investment in the startup, plus some equipment and inventory.

They hit a few snags early. The room was sparsely populated during daytime hours on weekdays, prompting the owners to push their opening to 5 p.m. When customers balked at a $5 cover charge for all-day play, the owners dropped the toll, “and business picked up considerably,” Branam said.  

The other couple began to lose interest in the business after about six months, Troy said, so the Branams bought them out. But running the room eventually proved to be an overwhelming commitment.

“I was working in the triple-digit hours,” Branam said. “My wife and I can’t do this by ourselves. At one point I thought about just closing the doors.”

Andrew Chang, an oncologist who moved to Indianapolis in late 2007 to work at Riley Hospital for Children, had been spending off hours in the room to relax. He heard that Branam might be looking for a partner, and approached him. In late 2009, Chang took an equity interest in the enterprise with a $20,000 investment, and was able to take some of the workload off Branam's hands.

“The role that I play is more with working with the website, ordering, advertising and bringing groups here to play games, and letting people know we are a resource,” Chang said.  

More relief came when customer Mark McCormick agreed to become a co-owner with a sweat-equity investment, managing the business some 10 hours per week in exchange for a stake.

There is no pot of gold in sight for these owners, who still rely on their day jobs as their principal sources of income. Arsenal's gross sales for 2010 amounted to about $75,000, about 80 percent of which is attributed to food sales. (The remainder is mostly sales of games and accessories in the room's retail shop.) What little profit the business reaps is plowed into a rainy-day fund.

“It's somthing that's more of a passion," Chang said. "I think the goal is to be profitable. It’s the building of the reputation. And this past year was busier than the previous year, which was busier than the year before that.”

“Even in a bad economy, we were slowly growing,” Branam said. “So I’d like to see it in a good economy.”
 

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Arsenal Game Room & Cafe
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874 Virginia Ave.
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(317) 822-4263
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www.arsenalgameroom.com
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Concept: A two-level facility with four main rooms designed to accomodate both small and large groups playing role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, as well as more traditional board games. Arsenal also has a well-stocked retail shop for games and accessories, but roughly 80 percent of its gross sales come from the sale of snacks, soups, entrees and desserts from its in-house cafe.
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Founded: September 2007
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Owners: Troy and Becky Branam; Andrew Chang; and Mark McCormick.
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Start-up costs: $30,000
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2010 gross sales: $75,000
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Employees: None; the business is entirely owner-operated.
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Seating: Approx. 120
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Goals: To continue to grow sales.
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Good to know: Themed rooms such as the dungeon, war and board rooms can be reserved for large parties.
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