These College Friends Went From Throwing Killer House Parties To Running A Successful Bar

Barcade Jersey City
Barcade’s Jersey City location

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This post originally appeared at American Express OpenForumNo one was more surprised by the early success of Barcade, a Brooklyn-based bar featuring classic arcade games and craft brews, than its founders.

Like many 20-somethings, Paul Kermizian and several of his closest college friends from Syracuse University had long dreamed of starting a bar.

But when they decided in 2004 to actually take the plunge, they saw it as a fun side project, a way to help support their own freelance careers in media and film production. 

They never expected it would grow into a full-fledged business. 

“We had always talked about how it would be cool to have a bar, a place that was our own, the type of place we wanted to hang out at,” Kermizian said. “We just wanted to open a place that we liked, that had craft beer and classic arcade games, and it turned out a lot of other people wanted that too.”

Within a year of its founding, the bar had turned profitable, thanks to a steady stream of new and repeat customers. Eight years later, Barcade now has locations in downtown Jersey City and Philadelphia in addition to its first location in an old metal shop in Williamsburg.

We were able to speak with Kermizian recently to hear more about his experience as a bar-owner and learn advice for other would-be entrepreneurs.

On unexpected success

“We were all just kind of a little jaded about freelancing. We decided to open Barcade so we could have a steady gig and steady income, and be a little more choosy about what we were doing with our creative careers. And it just took off. It’s now become a full time job for all of us. We just ended up really enjoying it.”

On not knowing much about bartending

“In college, my partners and I used to run a house party, but that was about it. It was a pretty sophisticated operation. We had a cash bar and three floors. But that was the only experience we had. We had a number of friends who were very experienced bartenders. They helped out behind the bar. We managed the whole thing.”

On start-up funding

“It was our own money and running up our credit cards. It was a little different time then. We used all of our savings and then whenever we went over budget, it went on our credit cards. We did all of the work ourselves, except for plumbing and electrical, so that helped to keep costs low.”

On the physical space of Barcade locations

“Having 35 or more classic arcade games in a bar is kind of a lot of decor on its own. s o we didn’t really feel the need to dress up the space much more than that. It worked in our favour to have a model like that where we could keep the backdrop behind the games very simple. We just took the idea, ‘we’re taking an old building that was something else. It was an auto garage. It was a metal shop. Let’s just play that up.'”

On partnering with friends

“It’s usually a bad idea, and I think that in most instances it can get really bad, especially if things don’t go really well. But we were just kind of lucky to have success right at the beginning; it’s been mostly bump free.

We all gave ourselves the same titles. At some point, we decided we were going to be called the managing directors. I don’t know, it just sounded good. We have departments that we oversee, but really we share all of the running of the company together. We are all very involved.”

On what sets Barcade apart

“We really believe in keeping a narrow focus –just doing a certain thing and concentrating it, rather than trying to appeal to everyone. We really have very limited period that we pick our games from, which is late 70s to 1991. Nothing new. There is no pinball, no skee ball. There is no ball pit or anything, just a very limited focus and we try to do that well.

On expanding

“When we were doing this, we all had other careers. We were just doing this partly for fun, but partly for having a steady income. It took us a long time to maybe realise that this was a successful enough business that it could be expandable. It took probably way too long to realise that. there are a number of copycats and competitors that are doing it around the country.”

On challenges

“It’s something that we can replicate over and over, but it’s not like a hamburger place where we could have 30 of them in new york city. We are limited.

The challenges for us have been being able to expand to other cities and trying to maintain and trying to build an infrastructure for the company.  I’ve been trying to make sure we don’t cannibalise our audience by doing too many too close each other. There is probably a limit to people who want to play Rampage and listen to Rush and drink craft and drink craft beer.”

On advice for other would-be bar owners

“A lot of times people open a bar because they think it’s going to be fun and they want to party all the time. To an extent we wanted to do that, but we also took the job very seriously. You can’t drink up your profits. It seems like a fun business to be in, but the hours are difficult, and you’ve got to keep your head straight. It’s a cash business. You have to be alert and aware of what’s going on. I think a lot of people maybe don’t consider that when you get in it.”