The view from St Werburgh Street in Chester is stunning. Walk along it and it’s hard not to take your eyes off the city’s magnificent cathedral. But there’s also a fabulous range of independent shops facing the city’s historic landmark that would love you to turn your gaze towards them, and enjoy all they have to offer, too.
Ben Goring (pictured, above) is the store manager of CUPS Coffee & Board Games, one of the shops on St Werburgh Street. He’s one of the first to acknowledge the cafe and the shops around it are in one of the best spots in the city.
“We have a brilliant location. We have one of the best views in Chester,” he says. “The cathedral is absolutely stunning and the people are fantastic.”
St Werburgh Street, right in the heart of the city, is made up of independent businesses with everything from the board game cafe to music at UpNorth Records and self-care at Phillip Hughes Hairdressing. Add Pyramid Designer Glassware and Gifts and Wildwood Event Florals to the mix and you have a stellar line-up of shops that are proud to be independent, proud to be different.
CUPS is owned by Nikki and James ‘Brad’ Bradbury, who also own a sister store in Shrewsbury. The Chester shop is their only board game cafe and their good friend Ben was brought in to open it in spring 2020 – just three weeks before the pandemic. The rest, as they say, is history.
Like other businesses nationwide, they had to close. But when they were able, they served coffee and food at the door for takeaway and rented out the board games. It meant that people chatted to them.
“It was challenging, for sure, but Nikki is not afraid of change if it’s necessary,” says Ben, “so we were really on the ball with it. When we went take-out only we rented our games out.”
It was the customers who kept coming back for more during the take-away only period that kept the gaming cafe going.
“We created a community of regular customers,” says Ben. “We had people coming in saying ‘you’re the first person I’ve spoken to in six weeks’ and those people kept coming back.
“The amount of regulars I have here now blows my mind.”
As Ben points out, it’s people who make a business successful, whether they are business colleagues or customers.
“People are really important to us, whether that’s our own family, our team or whether that’s our extended family – our customers and our regulars,” he says.
Ben believes the customers appreciate how hard the team at CUPS works at creating a relaxing atmosphere for them to enjoy.
“Nikki and I both worked in corporate hospitality for a long time and here it’s really important to us that we’re not corporate robots. We are an independent business and we are people and having a conversation with people. We’re not hiding behind a script, or crazy corporate rules,” he says.
“We know what that game is like – it’s hard – and it’s brutal for the people who work in that industry. We have the luxury of being able to create friendships and chat to people about real things.”
He’s also insistent that the cafe is not just about gaming and says people are more than welcome to just come in for a coffee and a cake in a relaxing, safe environment that just happens to have a great view.
“Come in and be nosy. See what it’s all about. I’m always happy to show people around upstairs,” says Ben. But what if you really want to try a board game?
“As a gateway board game cafe I can introduce you to board games,” Ben says. ” I want to show you that it’s such an amazing way to sit down with your friends or your family and create conversation without having a screen in front of your face.”
CUPS is divided into two: a chilled downstairs cafe and an upstairs gaming area where you’ll find games that you’ve heard of and plenty more that you haven’t. The menus are the same in both areas, with gluten-free and vegan dishes alongside the regular breakfast and lunch options.
“We’re not super heavy into one particular thing,” adds Ben. “My favourite kind of customer is the one that comes in who has never played a board game before – or who’s only played Monopoly. They look around and they go ‘these games are so weird and wonderful and I’ve never heard of any of them!’ And we can say ‘let me teach you!'”
There are games for kids from as young as four (being loud and noisy is encouraged), games for just two people and some you can play solo. Silly party and trivia games and strategy games that can take hours. Games that are really simple and easy to pick up alongside games that are really complex.
“We’re happy to do game recommendations and I’d ask, what kind of vibe are you looking for?” says Ben. “Do you play a lot of games? Do you want something that’s loud and silly or something that’s more chill and quiet and laid back?”
It’s £5 for a two-hour time slot on one of the four upstairs tables. On the weekend, Ben has to be super strict because of bookings, and it’s often one in, one out. And if you like what you play, there’s a retail section downstairs where you can buy the games that catch your eye. Almost all of the 100+ games on display downstairs are available to play upstairs.
“We also have evening gaming every other Friday, from 7pm to 9pm,” says Ben. “You can bring your own bottle and I do unlimited snacks on the tables – things like pretzels, popcorn, toasted flatbreads with hummus, guacamole and salsa.”
For Friday evenings it’s £15 per person to cover corkage, snacks and the gaming.
“It’s a closed door event so it’s more personable and I can teach more complicated games,” says Ben. “We can sit in on games and play with people if they’re struggling.”
There’s also table-top gaming on Thursday evenings. Think Dungeons and Dragons.
“Thursday evenings are great and it’s one of my favourite evenings to work because the people are amazing,” adds Ben. “It’s so full every week because people keep coming back – so we’re probably going to do a second evening.”
Ben is keen to shine a light on CUPS and all the businesses on St Werburgh Street.
“I want people to know that it’s here,” he says.
“One of the things I’m proudest about is the sense of community and how diverse that community is. I think there’s a misconception when people see a board game cafe they think: ‘oh no, I don’t want to go in and play a board game’, so I say you don’t have to play a board game just come in and have a chat! Come have a coffee, have a cake. Come play games if you’ve never played games before.
“It’s a place that is inclusive and it’s safe. We’re not going to care where you come from or what you look like. We want everyone to come in, relax, and just have a good time.”
- CUPS Coffee & Board Games is at 25 St Werburgh Street, Chester. Tel: 01244 342567.
- To book a board game table, ring them or message them on Instagram @cups_chester or on Facebook