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Dragon Den & Dungeon Hall Appealing To Growing Movement Of Pen-and-Paper Gamers
By Tina Traster
What do games teach us?
Monopoly is the crash course for capitalism. Chess trains us to think two steps at a time. Dungeons & Dragons releases the imagination, giving us license to dream up a world of our own creation and manipulate circumstance.
For Mike Carr, playing Dungeons & Dragons proved to be more than a game. At first, it released him from the deep depression he was suffering during an excruciating recovery from back surgery. It was therapy. Then it turned into a teacher, of sorts, steering him toward an entrepreneurial adventure combining gaming and food.
Carr is the owner of the recently-opened Dragon Den and Dungeon Hall at 102 Main Street in Nyack – a pen-and-paper tabletop gaming lounge and eclectic restaurant, perhaps the only one of its kind in the county. The cavernous space is a lair for gamers of all ages with offerings ranging from old-school scrabble and chess to D&D, Kitan Mortal Kombat, and Magic The Gathering Arena. It is also a restaurant for foodies seeking fun for their palate, serving everything from campfire s’mores, deep fried cauliflower, edamame, mac & cheese, burgers, and house-blend coffees.
Carr, a burly 35-year-old who cut his teeth in the automotive and construction industry, took a leap of faith with Dragon Den and Dungeon Hall, opening during the pandemic. He says there is a growing appetite to shut down screen time and reengage in a world that is tactile and social.
“There’s a surge of interest in board games that started in 2017,” said Carr. “People are tired of staring at their screens all day. Board games force people to think about math, reading, social situations. This resurgence is a backlash to our lives being controlled by our devices.”
Five years ago, Carr had emergency back surgery. He’d trained at the New England Tech in West Palm Beach for automotive technology and had been doing physical work for several years. The injury forced him to lie in bed for three months, plunging him into a deep fugue. What released him from his darkest days was an online D&D group.
“It gave me a connection back to the world,” said Carr. “I never knew about D&D before my surgery. I was a jock growing up. I played sports. But I discovered Critical Role and D&D and began binging for hours at a time. It blew my mind. I found a supportive community. People from every walk of life. It took me out of my bedroom. It allowed my to escape for hours at a clip.”
As Carr healed, his new passion became a game-changer – literally.
“I knew I could no longer work at my career,” he said. “I lost a lot of flexibility; I knew that down the road I’d have more back issues.”
Online gaming immersed Carr into a world of role-playing, which quite literally taught him to reinvent himself and his career. He began writing a business plan. “I knew that there were a few of these concepts around the country but nothing like this here in the Hudson Valley,” he said. “Mostly people who want to play games go to comic book stores or Hobby Town but I wanted to create something more accessible, something that included food.”
For three years, Carr plotted his moves, day trading to earn money, looking for funding, watching the tea leaves. In April 2020, just as COVID was shutting down the world, Carr saw opportunity. “I was watching the business reports and I believed banks were giving loans to help boost the economy; they were open to new businesses.”
With a combination of a personal loan, credit lines and savings, Carr rolled the dice, investing nearly $300,000 to build out the 3,600-square-foot gaming lounge/restaurant at a location that had been vacant for several years. Carr has leased the location for five years, with options to renew. The restaurant/gaming lounge opened in March.
“I’m kind of a history nut,” said Carr. “The way I looked at it, people who make it big are those who take a chance during big worldwide events. In the 1920s, during the Great Depression, people became steel millionaires. It’s like the stock market.”
Dragon Den & Dungeon Hall has 14 employees including two dungeon masters who facilitate games. The gaming spot attracts everyone from 18-years-olds who hardly ever leave their bedrooms to retirees looking for a chess or domino game. There’s no target market, says Carr, who rounds out the offerings with game nights, chess and domino tournaments, and magic nights.
Since opening its doors, Carr has learned that the games are an attraction, but food primarily generates the revenue.
“Ultimately this place is a restaurant,” said Carr. “That’s our bread and butter.”
Carr acknowledges his enterprise is stressful, an uphill endeavor that will take time to groom and grow. He is looking for a potential business partner, or investors.
“I’ve got a whole lot of skin in this game,” said Carr. “We’ll see what works. We’ll alter menus. We’re learning to run a restaurant while running a restaurant. We’ll make mistakes. As long as they don’t kill me, we’ll learn from them.”
Gaming has taught the entrepreneur how to be resilient, to think before making the next move.
“It’s like D&D. You spend months building a character, getting attached, and then you make one mistake, and the character dies. Done. Completely gone. You have to mourn and move on. Just like in real life. You’ve got to move forward.”