Sonia Tan, who owns the business with her husband, Jin Lee, and friend, Charles Thio, said people come not just for games, or the cafe’s Asian-fusion food, or its extensive variety of non-alcoholic beverages, including bubble teas, but for “an experience as a whole.”
Tan said there are two types of customers, those who come for the games and then look at the menu and say, ” ‘Oh my God, I want to try this’ and order food and drinks.”
And there are customers who come in looking for food and drinks, she said, and see Roll Play’s game library and say, “Oh, I want to play a game.”
Tan said the shop has games that take about five minutes, games that take 10 minutes, and games that can take hours.
But most people who come into Roll Play “are looking for a social experience,” Tan said.
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Roll Play at Garver opened May 27 next to Glitter Workshop, in the space that was Surya for five months. The vegan cafe closed at the start of the pandemic.
Bryant Moroder, project manager for Garver’s developer, Baum Revision, of Chicago, calls Roll Play a “pop-up,” but said if the business is successful, he hopes it stays. He said he and the owners will evaluate how it’s doing in mid-September.
The cafe’s pan-Asian street food menu includes soboro beef don, a Japanese rice bowl with ground meat simmered in soy sauce, dashi, and sake; bibimbap, the Korean rice favorite served with sautéed vegetables and choice of meat and egg.
There’s also Taiwanese braised pork rice with pork belly, cucumbers, braised egg and pickled radish; jian bing, Chinese style crepes with two eggs, black sesame seeds, scallions and crispy wontons; and tteokbokki, Korean sweet and spicy rice cakes served with fish cakes and scallions.
Tan, who’s from Malaysia, moved to Madison 13 years ago to attend the UW, and graduated with an economics degree in 2013.
She said she came up with Roll Play’s recipes, adding that they were easy to teach her employees to assemble.
The menu was reduced from the State Street menu because the kitchen is smaller and Tan said they want to focus on the overall customer experience.
Thio, who is from Singapore, said Roll Play’s most popular menu item is the Singapore chicken rice, which he makes himself. He said otherwise he’s in charge of ordering and teaching games. He said The Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders, and Ticket to Ride are the three most popular games.
He said eventually customers will be able to rent games from Roll Play’s library and bring them home. People are currently checking out games to play in the cafe, in the larger Garver area, or on the patios.
Thio came to UW-Madison six years ago for master’s degrees in economics and food science, which he got in 2019.
The State Street Roll Play, which opened in July 2019, started out more geared around games, but began focusing on carryout food early in the pandemic, said Tan, whose husband, Lee, and partner, Thio, were minority partners of Yushen Chen at the original Roll Play.
“Our customers, they like what we offer because we offer something pretty unique compared to other Asian restaurants,” Tan said. “We don’t have anything deep fried. A lot of our items are street-food inspired.”
The business has about 250 games, and is expanding its library monthly, she said. It recently added some games that can be played on the Garver patio, including a large wooden Jenga game; Pop-Up Pirate, where competitors push a pirate into the barrel and take turns sliding their swords into the barrel; and Quarto, where players place pieces on a gameboard to create a row where all four pieces have at least one common attribute.
Roll Play’s game fee is $5 per party, but parties of any size that spend $20 or more on food and drinks get the fee waived.
Thio said business has been slow, and hopes it will improve. Roll Play, he said, “is bringing a different type of business to Madison that’s a little bit of entertainment, a little bit of food, and the food is also something different.”
39 Madison-area restaurant, bar and coffee shop openings in 2021, including more on the way
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