New board game café opens at Ped Mall

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A new type of cafe will open in the board game-themed Ped Mall in downtown Iowa. Owned by Iowa City resident Justin Ford, Fortuna will open this fall.


A native of Michigan, Justin Ford grew up playing board games with his family. Whether it’s Monopoly, Connect 4, Clue or whatever, Ford has always had a love for competitive table games and still plays frequently with his family and kids. Now he’s bringing that worship to Iowa City, with a new cafe called “Fortuna”.

Named after the Roman goddess of luck, the establishment is a board game cafe, a concept Ford explained as a place to play board games that also serves coffee. Customers will be able to stop, pay a $ 6 cover charge, and select a board game to play. Some Fortuna staff, known as “game gurus”, will help customers choose a game and learn to play for the best possible experience.

“I want to offer an experience. People can just play board games at home, so there has to be a special experience they come for, ”said Ford.

After moving to Iowa City six years ago, the cafe owner saw a gap in the board game cafe market. Two years ago, he started making financial plans for a hypothetical business just to see why someone hadn’t already opened one in Iowa City, but after realizing he had already taken the first steps. to become a cafe owner, he decided to commit to this.

“If you had asked me four years ago if I would have opened my own business, I would have said no,” said Ford. “Before I knew it, I had developed the business plan, the financial model, and the marketing plan, and I thought I might as well.”

Fortuna is located downtown in the pedestrian mall at 105 E College Street. Although it is not yet officially open, Ford said people are urged to stop by. He’s already hired a full team and bought several new board games, some for retail and some for people to play inside.

“I think this company has a lot of potential for Iowa City,” Ford said. “We need more things in Ped Mall that are not just a bar, food or shops, but something to do.”

The cafe will serve Illycaffè coffee, an Italian brand specially selected by Ford. There will also be fresh popcorn available, sourced from a vendor in Cedar Rapids. Ford said they were finalizing details of other menu options, although it aims to sell pastries and other goodies.

Ford works primarily in environmental analysis and industrial hygiene and has experience in air quality analysis. He stressed that in the days of COVID-19, opening a business is not an easy task, but that it will make Fortuna as safe as possible with air filters and face masks mandatory for all staff.

Ford has said the cafe is in its “beta” and plans to officially open this fall, although no specific date has been set for a grand opening. Ultimately, he stressed that Fortuna will be a unique place where the people of Iowa City can meet up with friends with a different experience than other places.

“It has to be a place where you can come and have a good time, not necessarily just to hang out, but to hang out with people,” said Ford. “I want to provide that connection for people. They allow a good combined experience; that’s what I love about board games.


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