Right across from the St. Mary’s Gate Aldi and a hop, skip and a jump away from Decathlon, The Treehouse’s eye-catching branding and clean exterior are an indicator of the wonders hidden within. The café, opened in September by game enthusiasts Ruth and Andy Haigh, arrived with a great deal of fanfare within the board gaming community, and hopes were high for its immediate success.
“It’s beautifully presented”
Immediately upon entering, the décor is surprising. It’s fair to say that the large and lofty premises would never have lent itself to a homely design. Instead, owners Ruth and Andy have opted for a clean, modern aesthetic that would look less out of place in a restaurant than a café. It’s beautifully presented and a pleasant experience, even if the wooden benches and chairs are more stylish than practical in the face of hours of seated board gaming.
Everything about The Treehouse suggests that it wants to belong in Sheffield. The cakes and teas are made locally and the wall murals created by Florence Blanchard whose work can be found across the city. Connections with other hobby outlets have even resulted in some donating board games. This kind of community atmosphere makes the café feel like a coop and resonates with the hobby’s main draw of togetherness.
The opening night celebrations saw some familiar faces, with local stores such as Patriot Games making a supportive appearance. As with many niche hobbies (at least in comparison to natural partner video gaming), board gaming is a close-knit and welcoming community, something that The Treehouse is readily embracing.
Attention to detail is apparent across the café. As well as food, the menu has a board game taster guide that is categorised into player counts. There are shelves built underneath the tables to store components and boxes while a game is in use (though an issue here is that it makes the tables too high). Many staff members will support groups learning new games with a semi-encyclopaedic knowledge of rules and an engaging, friendly tone.
The most striking observation here is that the variety of customers is just as large as the variety of games. Many wander around the tables inspecting the games on show, while strangers are drawn together to pool player numbers, leading to some truly rewarding shared experiences. At its heart, this is what the hobby is all about.
In the months before launch, the café held a crowdfunding campaign for a starting collection of board games. This undoubtedly paid off, as their board game collection is very, very impressive. The size and depth of the choice on offer is astounding, with some that retail for close to £100. While price doesn’t guarantee a game’s quality, it does show a commitment on The Treehouse’s part to front the cost of a game so that you don’t have to.
There are rumblings of games on preorder such as Twilight Imperium 4th Edition, the brand-new update to board gaming’s grandest space opera. Make no mistake, the rows of boxes and their colourful exteriors mask what is a very serious board gamer’s collection, selected with a great deal of thought and care.
Of course, it isn’t all about the games. As many similar eateries seem to forget, being a themed café doesn’t exclude you from needing to sell quality food. Thankfully, the menu is varied and yet carefully tailored. A novel list of filled bagels come in multiple varieties, from the deliciously messy pulled pork and beetroot slaw to (my personal favourite) Moroccan spiced hummus. An unassuming standout is the sweet and spicy roasted nuts, a wonderful granola-like invention unlike anything I’ve eaten before.
For those with dietary requirements, there is a surprising amount on offer. A large portion of the menu is vegetarian, with various vegan and gluten free options too. Cakes include an impossibly vegan chocolate cake that is known to completely disappear within a few hours of sale and tastes great. Add to this a solid cup of coffee and a wide range of local teas from Nether Edge-based Birdhouse Tea Company and your lunch is sorted.
“The Treehouse bar is on to a winner”
However for those looking for evening entertainment, opening times as late as 11pm from Tuesday to Saturday reveal a different side to The Treehouse; one that rewards late stayers with an infectious restaurant-style buzz. The range of outlandish and colourful canned ales is impressive enough in its own right but add to that the surprising quality and fair prices of the wines on offer and The Treehouse bar is on to a winner. To cap it all off, the menu includes six words that every beer fan dreams of: “a rotating selection of craft beers”. Bliss.
Do be warned though, that between a £5 board gaming cover charge every four hours and by no means inexpensive food, you can spend a lot of money very quickly. That’s not to say the experience isn’t worth it and there is a membership that eventually pays for itself (if you plan on visiting around once a month), along with other offers for students. That doesn’t change the fact that the pricing structure feels a bit steep and complex. Head over to the website for more information.
There also doesn’t seem to be a system in place for tracking how much time you’ve spent in the café, which could result in a fair bit of good faith and confusion. Perhaps the owners could look at pay-per-minute cafes such as Ziferblat in Manchester for some inspiration for a cleaner system.
These points aside, you’d be hard pressed not to be wowed by The Treehouse and Ruth and Andy’s thoughtful efforts. The collection of board games didn’t need to be this expansive, nor the menu so unique. By partnering with local businesses and through great branding, the café has laid the foundations for both a great customer experience and a promising future in Sheffield.
Generously, students play for free on weekdays before 7pm, something this undergrad will be taking advantage of in the coming months, probably with a craft beer and hummus bagel in hand. There is an operational booking system and website online, and weekends are already seeing a fully reserved café. There is even early demand for large-scale Christmas parties. This can all be attributed to a competent and exhaustive business strategy. Not a single corner has been cut by Ruth and Andy, not just with regards to their active online presence but also from the impeccable choice in staff to the excellent branding and interior design.