What to expect from Chester’s new gaming café Geek Retreat

The city centre venue, which is more than 18 months in the making, launches on April 9

It’s been more than 18 months in the making but Geek Retreat is finally set to open its doors in Chester city centre. Wirral-based couple Michael Edwards and Toni Johnson are bringing the popular franchised chain to the city – and they can’t wait to get started.

The “alternative gaming café” launches at its new Watergate Street site on April 9. Toni, who already runs a Geek Retreat franchise with her partner in Hoylake, promises a safe, alcohol-free venue catering for people of all ages and backgrounds.

She revealed to CheshireLive that she and Michael were all set to press ahead with plans to open at the former Burger King property on Foregate Street back in 2020. However, they had a late change of heart due to fears that launching a new business during the pandemic would have been a bad idea.

The decision worked out well. Since then the couple have had a child, are now expecting another baby and went on to secure a venue in an area of the city they believe is more suitable. Toni believes the success of their Hoylake site, which opened in August 2019 and was Geek Retreat’s fifth franchise, can be replicated in Chester.

She said: “Chester was always going to be the next one. We both love the city and it’s not too far from home. We did a lot of research on Chester and there is a demand for something like this.

“This is a good model and we can replicate it in a city centre. We are an inclusive venue – you can come in from any age, whether it be from two to 92. We create a safe environment in what we consider an alternative gaming café.”

Toni added: “We wanted to do it in September 2020 but it wasn’t the right time to open then. We were all set to go at the old Burger King site on Foregate Street.

“We could have gone all guns blazing but we pulled back. We hung on and waited. I’m so glad we did. We found this venue in September last year and we’re absolutely chuffed. It was meant to be.”

It was her partner Mike who launched the Hoylake venue after deciding on a career change to suit his family life. He also has two children from a previous relationship and at the time was working for a company where he had to do a lot of travelling.

Toni explained: “It was a decent salary but he wanted to be closer to his family. He was losing time with the kids because of all the travelling and commuting. He was looking to do his own business and saw the franchise opportunity.

“He’s also a bit of a geek himself! I wasn’t part of the Hoylake opening but have been with Mike since around the start of Covid. I will be overseeing both branches as Mike is helping head office set up new franchises.”

Toni has secured the services of Tad Walker, who worked at the recently closed Build-A-Bear store at the Grosvenor Shopping Centre for several years, to manage the premises on a daily basis. She has also recruited an additional four members of staff with the potential for more roles to become available in the future.

Geek Retreat Chester will be open from 10am until 10pm weekdays, 10am to 7pm on Saturday and 11am to 7pm on Sunday. Describing itself as “the friendliest place to eat, meet, trade and game”, the venue features Yu-gi-oh!, Warhammer, Pokémon, Dungeons & Dragons, Magic The Gathering, board games, anime, sci-fi through to superheroes, and artistic outlets.

Community events and activities earmarked in the near future include “learn and play sessions” for children, an arts hub, fantasy novelist book signings, and a makers market. Geek Retreat Chester will also have party hire options.

To celebrate the opening of the site, Geek Retreat Chester will be hosting an individual launch day cosplay event on Saturday, April 9 followed by a family and couples cosplay event the day after. For more details visit Geek Retreat Chester.

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