Matt Burrows has been into games since he was about 3. Not just board games, but video games and card games as well.
“My parents have photographs of me playing Commodore 64 and Atari and all of these old-school game consoles,” he recalls.
Burrows enjoyed playing games as a child and it became a hobby he now shares with his wife, Gene Burrows.
However, they never imagined they would open a business of their own, especially something related to his love of games.
When Matt found himself stuck working as a window cleaner, things started to take shape, and the thought of opening his own business became stronger and stronger.
“Every winter I would think about quitting,” Matt says. He explained that he and his wife would often talk about the idea of doing something different.
“We toyed around with a bunch of different ideas, things like a game store, a comic-book store, a comic-book café, a game café,” he says.
It took three winters for the Burrows to finally make the decision to start working on opening a board-game café.
“We started a process of researching and learning and trying to see if it made sense,” says Matt, “And after that, we eventually decided that we felt confident enough to do it.”
On Nov. 10, 2015, Matt and Gene Burrows opened the doors of Mancala Monk, a board-game café on Cannon Street East. They came up with the name as a way to commemorate two very important things in their lives.
“Mancala is one of the world’s oldest board games,” explains Matt. Mancala is a board game with African and Asian backgrounds, that can be played by digging small holes in the ground and using small stones as game pieces. Gene learned the game at a young age and taught it to Matt when they were dating. “So I guess that came up when we were to come up with the name of the business,” he says.
As for the Monk part, they both come from a strong religious background. Matt studied theology and worked in churches for several years before he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore.
“I was always interested in church history,” says Burrows, “so it just happened, it sounded good.”
Mancala Monk has over a thousand games for all kinds of costumers. Family games, strategy games, card games: they have everything from Candy Land and chess, to Magic: The Gathering and, of course, mancala.
Before they opened, they bought as many games as they could from sites like Kijiji and Craigslist, but also from board game collectors.
“One guy in particular was having his first baby,” says Matt, “and they were turning the board games room into the kid’s room.” Matt says the man owned about 500 games, but he only bought 150 from him. “And it still looked like I didn’t even make a dent in his collection,” he adds.
Now they also buy from big board game distributors and have approximately 1,200 games that people can play. On top of that, they have a retail section where people can buy games to take home.
Matt says it’s really hard to choose a favourite board game, but he really likes Magic: The Gathering, a massively popular card game. “There’s an entire economy based around the individual cards,” explains Matt.
The café also offers food and drinks. They have staff who are experienced in both board games and food.
Mancala Monk runs a Magic: The Gathering event every week, as well as Dungeons and Dragons, another popular game. Matt says that these events became popular almost immediately, and it gave the café regular customers. They also run seasonal events every once in a while to keep the customers entertained.
Matt says he gets people of all ages and backgrounds at the café. From families who want to spend a cheap night out to couples on a date night or just groups of friends who want to hang out.
As for their future plans, Matt says opening a new location is something that he and his wife have talked about, but it’s not something they’re currently working on.
“Part of me wants to just chill and enjoy it,” says Matt. “We feel challenged, we feel stretched, but down the road we might feel like we wanna try something different.”