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The Weekly Grind - December 29th 2023 Newsletter

Here we are at the end of another year. Like last year, this post will be a year in review, and next week I'll have our New Year goals looking forward.

To keep this post from getting too long, I'm not going to go into a LOT of specifics and details. I tend to get caught up in details and off-topic a bit. Also, these highlights will likely not be in the order they happened.

To start, let's see where how we did with our 2023 Goals: Critical Grind's 2023 Bowl List

  • Start taking online orders (not delivery) We tried DoorDash for a while over the summer. It didn't go well. I did try to get the online ordering option, for pick-up, set up through our website but it seems some things are still missing and I'm struggling to figure it out.

  • Post to our socials, every day I've missed a day or 10 here but for the most part, I've been good about keeping up with Facebook, and sometimes Instagram. TikTok is a whole other problem.

  • Strengthen our relationships with publishers & creators I think this is a success. Progress has been made. We hosted several successful Company Spotlight events this year, a few successful developer play-test days, helped back a few of our player's Kickstarters, and even had a surprise drop-in by Scott Brady, award-winning board game creator of Boop.

  • By the end of 2023, have 2,000 Facebook Followers and 1,000 Instagram Followers We reached our Facebook goal of 2,000 Followers. We're currently at 2,502. Instagram fell short. We're only at 531.

  • Increase our retail section. Yes. We increased our retail, and we're still growing. Starting next year we'll be selling LEGOs and some TCG singles.

  • Have more people in the cafe during the weekdays While this has increased, with the help of the Homeschool meetups, and the chess club, it's not where I'd like it to be. I want to be busy enough during the day that I need another employee. This goal will carry over to next year.

  • Have 50 library subscribers Fell pretty short here. Only 20 subscribers right now. Maybe the rental system needs a revamp? Maybe people just don't know about it?

  • Schedule 6 more off-site game events for employee engagement or public events at breweries/libraries/cafes Let's count together. Flight Tasting Room, Hailstorm Brewing, Skeleton Key Brewery, Naperville Library. Nope. That's only 4. Technically we scheduled for Gray's Mill and Crest Hill Library, but the events themselves aren't until 2024 so, I don't count them.

  • Improve my latte foam-art skills Hmm.... Some improvement has been made on my end. But not enough to call this one a success.

  • Visit 1 new-to-us BIG event/convention Shaun got to go to PAX Unplugged this year. Not for Critical Grind, but with our new friends at Studio Agate. Maybe next year.

  • Participate in 3 new-to-us local events/conventions Lodge Con & Meeple Swing weren't new. But The Plainfield Library Fandom Fest, Joliet Pride Fest, & Bolingbrook Pride Fest were! I call it a win.

My word of the year for 2023 was Flourish. We did that. I am proud of where we are and confident that I have done a good job getting us here.

Highlights that weren't goals, and some shout-outs to the people who helped make them happen:

  • 1st Shout-Out is to Jad! Our longest employee. This young man worked here for 1.5 shifts after we opened before I had to let everyone go. But he kept coming in. Kept bringing in friends and family. Kept reminding me that whenever we were ready, he'd be here to work. And he was. We brought him back on and he has been thriving. Jad is great with the customers, is passionate about the games, loves the cafe, and is willing to jump in and do whatever needs doing. He's been an invaluable asset to Critical Grind and has been an integral part of its success this past year.

  • Serena and Ava are our other employees who have been excellent additions to the team. Serena spent the summer with us, and barring any changes on her end, will be joining us again next Summer. Ava is our newest employee and will be here with us for the school year. We appreciate both of them and hope you're all showing them respect and kindness.

  • Ash doesn't work here, officially. I'd say if Critical Grind had a mascot, it would be Ash. Or a head cheerleader. Ash is a Critical Grind staple and if you are a regular you probably have a nickname he remembers you by. (Plaid Dan, Marvel Noah, and British Jack all understand what's what.) We are slowly making Ash part of the Critical Grind team. He's helping me plan some upcoming events, and may even start barista training shortly.

  • Our Women's Day celebration was a hit! This was in major part to Demi Clara for coming to me with the idea. From there, a series of musicians sharing their talents with us on Sundays, hosting pop-up bakeries, creator meetups, and craft events all spiraled out of this one event.

  • A shout-out to my childhood friend Christina for telling me about Free RPG Day. This was a big success for us. We had DMs/GMs/STs running one-shots all day, a potion bottle drink special, and so many RPG giveaways & raffles.

  • A former co-worker of Shaun's works with the Will County Pride Coalition. Stacy came to us with the idea of teaming up to host an all-ages drag show. With all the negativity on all-ages drag shows in the public eye, we worked together to restructure it as a Variety Show. Along with the very talented drag performers, we also featured a local musician, Hannah Delilah, and a karaoke party, hosted by Jay Borsom of Liquid Kourage Entertainment (more about her later). This event was the first time the cafe was at max capacity and we had to turn people away at the door. This event, and a couple subsequent evenings at full capacity set off a chain-reaction that resulted in expanding.

  • We expanded! After having a few evenings where we were unable to seat everyone who came in wanting to play, we approached the landlord and planted a little bug in his ear that we were going to want more space in the future. And less than a month later, our neighbors, Blush Lash Studio, put in their intention to vacate. We took over their space and after a month or 2 of going around to the other entrance, we finally opened the wall and put in some doors connecting the two spaces. We have SO many more tables and chairs now, plus, I get a whole office - not that I get a chance to really use it.

  • Our game collection has expanded to around 1,000 games. At this point last year, I think we were barely over 400. Between donations, and a few purchases we've more than doubled our game library.

  • Our Monday TCG Night has grown so successful, and with the extra space, we've added Friday Nights as well. And as our Thursday RPG Night is getting bigger, we're going to be adding Tuesdays starting next year.

  • Speaking of Tuesdays, another important shout-out to Brittany Shaw, for hosting our very popular Cozy Quiz trivia nights on Tuesdays. Brittany takes time out of her own busy schedule to create and host a weekly trivia game for us, strictly out of the kindness of her heart and love for Critical Grind. And because we love Brittany so much, starting in January, we're going to be giving her a week off once a month. We're going to start playing various Jackbox Games on the 3rd Tuesday of the month. (Try the Cozy Quizzard on the secret menu)

  • Right along that vein of love, we have Jay Borsom, a key member of our community here. She is the owner of Liquid Kourage Entertainment, host of the word-game podcast Verboten, founder of the World Trivia Federation, and known as "the hardest working woman in trivia." Starting with a crazy 12-hour stream-a-thon fundraiser last February, Jay has been volunteering her time by hosting Nerdy Trivia, or a specialized-themed trivia, roughly once a month this past year. Next year she's introducing a new format called Triv-Tac Toe. She also is one of our regular storytellers for our Saturday Night Blood on the Clocktower games. She hosted our Disney-themed karaoke party! We love Jay, and her whole family. (Try the Koffee with a K on the secret menu)

  • Blood on the Clocktower Saturdays started because I wanted to play Social Deception games on April Fool's Day. BotC was such a hit, that people wanted to play it all the time. What started as a once-in-a-while thing, has become almost a weekly occurrence. We now have several Storytellers who have taken it upon themselves to keep the game going as often as possible, all for the love of the game and The Grind.

  • With much encouragement from several of our regulars, we've started selling various Critical Grind merchandise items. We have tumblers, t-shirts, hats, and notebooks. The tumblers are often available in the cafe, and the other items are print-to-order and available in the "Shop" tab on our website.

  • In October we held a Murder Mystery Dinner. It was a great time! The event sold out in 2 days. Noah was our wonderful host and all of our guests went all out for their costumes and characters. It was a real joy to see the interactions and the whole story unfold.

  • Kevin, our wonderful and supportive friend from Studio Agate, has been hosting Kids D&D/Fateforge Fridays! It has been a big hit and the kids always have a great time.

  • Speaking of Kids D&D, we hosted a D&D Summer Club and I would definitely consider that a success. There were a couple issues with DMs not showing up, but we recovered and I think everyone had a lot of fun. I am very excited to offer this again next year.

  • We were voted "One-of-the-Best" in Will County for Family Recreation for 2023. Less than a year open and your love and support made us an award-winning cafe. Thank you all for that.

There are still so many other things that could come to mind but I think this is getting long enough. If you've made it this far, thank you. And I don't just mean the blog post. Thank you for being a part of our community. Thank you for helping grow our community. More people are finding Critical Grind every day and it's almost entirely word-of-mouth. Your recommendations, tags, reviews, and dragging new people here. Having your birthday parties here, giving friends gift cards, and wearing our merch are all bigger gestures than you realize.

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