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Canterbury’s first board game cafe The Long Rest opening in Butchery Lane

A couple admits ditching their well-paid roles to open a new board game cafe is a risk but one worth taking.

Isabella Bowden, 29, and 31-year-old Ben West are set to open The Long Rest in Canterbury – a stone’s throw away from the cathedral – on Tuesday.

Isabella Bowden and Ben West of The Long Rest in Canterbury
Isabella Bowden and Ben West of The Long Rest in Canterbury

Filling the gap left by Cafe Mauresque, the pair are leaving management and software developer roles to take the plunge – but say they feel “confident” in their vision for the business, which is the city’s first.

“It is stressful, it can’t be avoided because we’re putting pretty much everything into this,” said Isabella.

“But we put a lot of research into this and an awful lot of people have helped us – we’ve had a lot of people reach out to us which has been encouraging.

“And it does show there is a market for it, there’s almost a gap for welcoming spaces in the gaming community and the city.

“We’ve been buoyed by other business owners telling us what we offer can be exactly what the city needs, especially since after the pandemic.”

The Long Rest opens on December 4
The Long Rest opens on December 4

Ben added while it is a risk, they feel it is “a good risk” and feel confident about the venue on Butchery Lane.

The couple first met at university in 2016 where they did teacher training together, spending time working at the Spires Academy in Hersden during the course before deciding to go down alternative routes.

Isabella would go on to work in hospitality, working her way up to manager at Caffè Nero in St George’s Street.

Ben used to work in an escape room business in Margate before working in software development but confesses he was desperate to get away from a computer screen.

He said: “This is a good chance to do something we want to do and are passionate about – between us we can cover the hospitality and business management aspects of the business.

“If someone ever leaves here thinking they could have just done this at home, something’s gone wrong – we want this to be a special place that offers something different.

Isabella will take an active role in the hospitality side of The Long Rest's endeavours
Isabella will take an active role in the hospitality side of The Long Rest's endeavours

“This is the area where our knowledge and expertise can overlap – fingers crossed we can be here for 10 years or even more.”

There are currently 152 different games tucked away in the cafe’s library – some of which are yet to be released in the UK.

Notable activities on offer include Monopoly, Jenga, Star Wars Cluedo and Risk.

The pair have long been lovers of the pastime – with social deduction games proving to be a particular hit for the duo.

Playing board games forms a key part of the couple’s social life – having found friends across the country who share the hobby with them.

Isabella said: “We always had board games at home, I’m a big fan of jigsaws as well and when I met Ben we would play with friends – it’s very much a social activity for us.

The Long Rest will span three floors of its home in Butchery Lane, Canterbury
The Long Rest will span three floors of its home in Butchery Lane, Canterbury

“For Ben, it started with ‘Escape from Colditz’ when he was six years old around his grandparents’ table.”

The move hasn’t been easy for the couple, having to fight off bigger rivals and find a home for their venture to thrive.

However, after managing to convince their new landlord to let them move in, Isabella and Ben admit they have been “very lucky” – and are grateful for previous hiccups that led them to Butchery Lane.

And having lived in the city for more than 10 years both together and separately, the couple confessed their love for Canterbury and said they had thrown around the idea of starting a business in the area for a few years.

Ben said: “I had a dream about the cafe being up and running and I knew this would be the place for us.

“We toyed with the idea of an escape room but we always kept coming round to having this coffee area and there are issues with the escape room model.

The Long Rest in Canterbury has more than 150 board games
The Long Rest in Canterbury has more than 150 board games

“We ended up going to a few board game cafes around the country and we felt it was good, but we could do it better.

“Some people do run this sort of cafe as a hobby and it shows, we want to do what we love but be professional about it.”

Isabella added: “An awful lot of board game cafes become very picky and can be awkward about who they want in – we want to be open to everyone who might want to come.”

The premises licence only allows for 60 covers but it is hoped the use of the private hire space upstairs can help attract more than just board game lovers and coffee drinkers.

In the long run, it is hoped quizzes and clubs can use the space – whilst Canterbury Christ Church University has expressed interest in using the site to host off-site lectures for its students.

The opening will create five part-time jobs too – with two of those being Games Design students at CCCU – and their new bosses are keen to see everyone’s enthusiasm for games rub off on customers.

The cosy cafe will only implement a cover charge if the board game library is accessed – which will be £5.75 per head.

Walk-ins are welcomed but bigger groups are encouraged to book ahead – slots up for grabs will be a minimum of three hours.

Customers looking to enjoy a bite to eat or a drink – all of which will be sourced from nearby businesses – will not have to pay a cover charge due to the faster turnover of people.

The Long Rest will be open Tuesday 1pm – 10pm, Wednesday to Saturday 10am – 10pm and Sundays 10am – 8pm.

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