Creating a Gaming Community in Kalamazoo0
Downtown Kalamazoo is home to a unique, brand-new business that’s catering to today’s (and yesterday’s) video gaming public.
Owner and Executive Chef Amy Spalsbury burst onto the Kalamazoo entertainment scene in mid-November, opening a retro video game bar downtown called LFG. Spalsbury scored a plum location at the corner of Portage and Michigan, the former home of Casa Bolero. The bar/gaming venture is based on inspiration Spalsbury and her husband Andy picked up during a trip to Orlando, Fla., almost three years ago.
No stranger to Kalamazoo, Spalsbury is a Kalamazoo Central High School grad, and her mom still lives in Spalsbury’s childhood home in Kalamazoo. She even met her husband of two years at Kalamazoo’s Shakespeare’s Pub.
Spalsbury left Kalamazoo in her early 20’s to attend the Le Cordon Bleu culinary institute in Minneapolis, Minn., and at one time, saw herself permanently transplanted in Minneapolis. Initially, she was drawn to the big city opportunities. However, the longer she was gone, he more she gradually realized she missed the size and special energy of Kalamazoo.
“It’s (Kalamazoo) definitely busy, but not crazy,” Spalsbury says. “And I missed the community.”
Today, Spalsbury owns and operates Kalamazoo’s only arcade and videogame bar.
The facility boasts 17 total machines with board games card games also available, numbers Spalsbury hopes to expand upon over time. The bar seats 75, but has an overall capacity of 160 for parties and corporate events. Weekends at the venue are particularly family friendly and busy.
“The pace has been crazy, but really good,” she says about her weekend crowd.
While minors are welcome during the day, an over-21 policy takes effect at 9 p.m. Business hours vary on different days of the week, along with the gaming selections. Schedules are posted on LFG’s website.
Besides the video games, the bar features what Spalsbury calls “elevated,” or “simple and elegant,” food and drink. All elements are intentionally special this isn’t your typical deep-fried bar food. Customer service and fine dining experience form the backbone of Spalsbury’s professional history. That, plus her formal culinary training, leads to an LFG menu stacked with high quality, locally sourced ingredients.
Spalsbury’s favorite dish is the Hedgehog Chili Dog, a completely local concoction made with Carlson Farms brats and Sarkozy’s buns. Local sourcing is an intentional element to Spalsbury’s business plan, plus she loves contributing to the local economy.
Something else that makes LFG special is the dining and service style. In keeping with the casual bar atmosphere, patrons should note that table service is not provided. Instead, customers step up to the gorgeous green lighted glass bar to order food and drinks. Additionally, wait staff circulates through the tables to offer beverage service. The vibe is simple and easy, giving patrons space to enjoy the community feel within the gaming environment.
For the moment, Spalsbury calls this start-up “modest,” as she has significant plans for expanding the business in the near future. In January, she be started gaming tournaments, and eventually she’d like to see extended hours at the bar, potentially reaching the local lunch crowd. At some point, she expects her husband Andy will work with her full time.
In her very limited free time, Spalsbury spends time with her four “fur children,” two cats and two dogs, and she enjoys gaming herself. She’s not comfortable disclosing this, but grudgingly admits she’s excellent at Tetris Attack and Mario Kart.
One of the important draws to opening her business in Kalamazoo is the support Spalsbury gets from other local business owners. They’re excited about additional businesses opening and encouraging to the new entrepreneur. She shares a story about her relationship with Star World Amusement Incorporated, a decades-old Kalamazoo business. Spalsbury purchased some gaming consoles from Star World, and they have continued to support her by helping her with repairs and even training her to troubleshoot her own equipment, keeping her gaming space up and running.
“This community’s got my back,” she smiles.