For almost two years now the crew of Shogun Gamer has been following along, with personal and professional interest, on the progress of a new local gaming hub in Vancouver. EXP Restaurant + Bar has been in development for some time, and while we’ve watched it grow from the dream of one man into a full-time job, legitimate venue, and reality, there’s always been talk of sitting down with the man behind the plan.
Earlier this week I was provided an opportunity to sit down and discuss the history of the project at length, and ask the owner of EXP, Brian Vidovic, a few questions about the history of the project and the path that’s brought him towards the opening of the bar (which, should hopefully be soon!).
For anyone not already familiar with the concept of the project, here’s the Cole’s notes verison of what Brian hopes to accomplish, before we dive into the Q&A:
EXP is going to be the hub of the gaming community in downtown Vancouver. It is a video game themed lounge/bar/restaurant that builds on the concepts of video games from the ground up.
The menu has been specifically sculpted, by Head Chef Miranda Williams, around the needs of gamers: items you can eat with your hands while gaming; finger foods and food on sticks, so that you can game while you enjoy a meal. Everything is high quality and surprisingly cheap. The drinks, as well, are video game themed and are the original creations of Bar Manager Jimi Watkins. Beyond food, drinks, and a slick looking venue the bar also incorporates ‘gamification’ in that there will be rewards you can unlock by visiting regularly or completing ‘quests’ (bar-chievements?).
After they open they will also become a centeralized location for gamer meet-ups in the downtown core; launch parties, tournaments, eSports and whatever other gamer events the team at EXP or its partners can dream up. EXP is going to be the home-base for any major gaming event or after party in Vancouver.
It’s a concept that every single Vancouver gamer has dreamed of at one point of another, and thanks to Brian and his team, it’s finally happening.
THE ROAD SO FAR:
Casey White: “So where did the idea of a Video Game themed bar originally come from?”
Brian Vidovic: “It was a dream of mine since I was a youngin' - only back then it was a pizzeria and I would play Goldeneye with my friends. My tastes matured, I entered Game Design, and when the opportunity to start my own business arose, I chose to follow this dream with a ridiculous amount of determination.”
Casey: “When did you actually get started putting things together?”
Brian: “About 3 years ago I started to research and write a business plan. It was all downhill from there”
Casey: “Before you got into working on the concept of EXP full-time, what were you doing?
Brian: “I was a Game Designer/Mission Scripter at Radical Entertainment on Prototype, Prototype 2 and an unannounced title. Before that, I went to Vancouver Film School for Game Design. And even before that, I worked retail at Rogers Video and Superstore in the Electronics department, renting out and selling video games.”
Casey: “Tell us about the team working with you. Who all is involved in the project?”
Brian: “The ownership of the company is held by me, Julianna Kolakis, as the Financial Director, and Azlan Mustapha as our Executive Producer. Our Head Chef, Miranda Williams, and our Bar Manager, Jimi Watkins, are just some of the best people you could ever ask for to open a restaurant like ours. Dedicated, entrepreneurial, passionate, and huge gamer geeks. We also have our landlord and construction manager John Jervis on board to make sure the build-out goes smoothly and efficiently. It's been awesome thus far. “
Casey: “I know it took a while, there was plenty of scouting and even a couple of ‘test venues’ but I understand you guys have locked down a permanent venue and have started to build. Where is EXP’s future home?”
Brian: “309 W. Pender, Downtown Vancouver. We looked for over a year and a half to find a location. This happened to be the best location for the price and we truly believe we can turn it into something special.”
Casey: “Speaking of the venue, who was it that came up with the design for it; where did you draw your inspiration for its décor?”
Brian: “It was a collaborative effort between management, the chef, bar manager and an interior designer to get the look we wanted. Julianna is an amazing concept artist, so she was able to give an image to the venue while we all worked on the logistics of how it would actually run. “
Casey: “Can you expand a little on the concept; give us a little bit of a walkthrough of how you see it in your head, and what we can expect?”
Brian: “It is a big open area that we plan to have filled with awesomeness. TVs all along the walls, one big projector you can see from the door, and a sleek bar right at the front of the venue. Dark colors with game-themed vinyl prints, paintings, other art work, alongside signed game posters and other game paraphernalia, and splashes of colored lighting will be main focuses of the space.”
Casey: “Of course you’ve already got a lot of fans, including myself, who are looking to bust down your doors as soon as they open (if not sooner), so how many people are you actually going to be able to have in there?”
Brian: “2700 sq. ft total, but we have a 50 seat capacity at the moment until we go back to the city with revised floor plans and a third washroom. We can easily fit over 100 people for special events though."
Casey: “You mentioned special events, and that’s got me thinking of a bunch of things I’d like to see come to EXP: E3 Screening Parties, eSporting Events, Launch Parties (or at least after parties), EVO, etc. What are your plans for events at EXP?”
Brian: “There are limitless possibilities. Themed parties and game launches are just the tip of the iceberg. We are planning tournaments, Q&A sessions with Industry leaders, trivia nights, wrap parties, and much more! We will also gladly take suggestions from the community - it is what we are all about: giving people what they want!"
The concept is something that I’m sure we’ve all thought about, and got excited for at one point, and if there’s one city in Canada that deserves to have a video game community water-hole like EXP I would say it’s Vancouver. Unfortunately our local liquor laws have given Brian and his team some problems. It’s a concept we expanded on in our secondary article featuring EXP “LCLB Bans Video Games from EXP Bar.”
Please do check out the second article as well if you haven’t already to hear why this amazing new local venue is in trouble currently, and get a bit of information on what you can do to help with the fight!
Our thanks to Brian Vidovic for taking time out of his busy building schedule, and the fight against the LCLB, to talk a little with us about the bar and his journey to its open. You can also look forwards to some additional coverage as we move closer to the open of EXP including talks with the bar manager, head chef, and of course the opening night’s festivities.