Building a board game haven

It’s billed as the capital city’s first board game café, serving up lattes, beers, paninis – and about 700 different board games.

“I thought Ottawa needed something like this, some place where you could go meet people, but wasn’t necessarily a bar scenario,” says David Narbaitz, the owner of Monopolatte. “Someplace that you could go play a board game with someone and make four new friends.”

“Also, I needed a job that would be social and not stick me in a cubicle all day.”

Located on Somerset St. West, Monopolatte is Narbaitz’s first crack at starting his own business.

“Everyone says the second one will be easier,” he jokes.

He’s had to learn as he goes, and has hit plenty of bumps already – the café was originally scheduled to open last August. But Narbaitz was forced to push back opening day, partly because of complications with renovations to the building.

“The Ontario building code is very convoluted. Even the experts on the building codes make mistakes – and every mistake is a two week delay,” he explains.


The building was originally a bookstore, but the occupancy was still officially marked as residency. Narbaitz learned the occupancy had to be changed to commercial if he wanted to operate a café – and that’s led to the latest roadblock.

The building’s stuccoed ceilings are two millimetres shy of the thickness required to separate the commercial café from the residential apartment on the second floor.

“It’s immensely frustrating,” Narbaitz says. “Two weeks ago I had it all set up with tables and everything in its proper place, just to take a look at it, and it was ready to go. I could have opened up the next day.”

Now, he has to wait for the changes to be approved by the city, and then wait on the construction. Up to this point he’s done all the painting himself, but he has hired someone to make the final few changes to get it done quickly.

But despite the delayed opening, Narbaitz is confident the café will be a success – and he’ll be able to pay off the bank loan he drew to fund the venture.

“The support I’m getting from the community, and the people I know that are going to be in here when I open, has allowed me to continue taking money out of the loan in good conscience, knowing that it can be repaid,” he says.


If the board game café in Toronto that inspired Narbaitz is any indication, he has good reason to be confident.

Snakes and Lattes, which opened three years ago, was one of the first board game cafés in North America. Now it has more than 2,500 different games for patrons to play – another 1,000 are available on request. This café  recently put on an addition and can now pack in more than 100 people at a time

“Our biggest problem has always been that we’ve been busier than we’ve been prepared to be,” says Sean Jacquemain, who works for the Snakes and Lattes café. “It’s one of those good problems in business to have.”

“We are busy every night running wait lists,” Jacquemain says, adding that the café has never done any sort of advertising. Instead, he attributes part of the success to word of mouth and media coverage.

“We’ve gotten a lot of press about it,” he says, because it’s such a unique idea.

Part of the appeal is that you can play expensive or rare board games, which can cost upwards of $100, for only the $5 cover charge – and you can stay and play as many games as you like, for as long as you want.

Snakes and Lattes even has game gurus on staff specifically to help customers choose the right game.

“They’re kind of like game sommeliers,” Jacquemain says.

Narbaitz will adopt that same business model at Monopolatte, targeting both diehard fans and casual customers interested in trying new games.

Board game nights are already a feature at several downtown pubs and cafés, and Narbaitz says he’s already received tons of feedback from eager customers.

“Every day I get a few calls saying ‘Are you open yet?’ ”

He’s learned not to make any promises, but hopes to throw open the doors in a matter of weeks.