Serving up espresso-fueled gaming.
The era of the simple cybercafe, with its bank of beige computers and cloud of cigarette smoke, is on the way out. Today’s cybercafes cater to the desire for games, the need for off-site workstations, and the love of a properly poured latte. In Minneapolis, The Loading Zone is the country’s newest plugged-in cafe, and founders Tri Nguyen, Ryan Bloch, Jason Cohen talk about what it took to get wired.
Why did you want to open the cafe?
We decided to start the cafe for many reasons. It could have been boredom and it could have been a need for such a place, since Minneapolis had lost its only Internet cafe, CyberX. Also, there used to be LAN house parties, hosted by Jason and Ryan, every Thursday night. After a few months, the crowd grew to over fifteen. It became clear that Minneapolis needed a well-designed place to game.
Why do you think Minneapolis in particular is ready for your cafe?
Minneapolis has always been a leader in most things. We might as well lead in the direction of computers mixed with tea for good health. Minneapolis is also one of the places that new things often start. Cybercafes have been around for a long time, but there was no true cybercafe in Minnesota, only one with Internet access. We thought that by bringing in a real one, everybody would have an entertainment alternative, which most big cities take for granted.
How do you differ from the defunct Internet cafe, CyberX?
It is a difficult comparison to make. I feel we provide a completely different atmosphere. We designed our store to have a very modern, industrial and most importantly, a clean feel to it. We do not allow smoking inside, which we have had some criticism for. Our response is that we want a clean healthy environment, not to mention what cigarette smoke does to computers. Also, our computers and equipment are top of the line. We have a T-1 line for Internet access and gaming.
What were some of the difficulties you experienced in launching the cafe?
Funding, of course was always an issue. The hardest part was dealing with bankers who don’t really care or didn’t want to take a risk with young people they saw as “12 year-olds.” The city also had us doing never-ending circles for months, too, for permits and such. Owning Fourth Dimension Networks Inc., a company that provides computer services to small businesses, was our biggest asset. The architecture of the store, lighting, plumbing and heating came together by trading our computer services with some of our best clients: friends and family.
What future directions do you see for the cafe?
We are constantly making changes to the store. We just got an espresso machine. We have also started doing Movie Nights on Thursdays, and Anime Nights on Saturdays. We plan on creating a better look for the exterior of the building, like putting in trees and plants in large planters.
What kind of challenges do you find in running The Loading Zone?
Trying to get people in the door for the first time. When they get here, they stay for awhile and enjoy themselves. It’s hard to be confident about your new business after only four months, but every time we open the door in the morning, there’s the realization that we finally did it. The planning and construction seemed to take so long, but now reality is beginning to set in. We have created a really cool place to hang out, and we did it ourselves.
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