Chris Randazzo is pleased a “Geek Culture” has exploded. “It changed my world,” said the owner of Galaxy Comics, Games and More in downtown Stevens Point near the University of WisconsinStevens Point campus.
The store opened on April 1, 2004, he said,. “Maybe I should have held off a day.” His business decision, though, turned out to be no April Fool’s joke. It found an audience and grew over the next 14 years. Two years ago, he added a café with sandwiches and sides — most of which are made from scratch.
The two businesses combine his passions for gaming and cooking. In his youth, he worked for Galaxy Hobby in Plover. When owner Scott Shurbit wanted to sell the business, he approached Randazzo, but “I didn’t want the whole business,” he said. Instead, Randazzo bought part of it and kept the Galaxy name. Galaxy Hobby continues today in Plover, but the two are separate businesses.
“We were ahead of the curve in experiential or hands-on business,” he said. This became people’s Third Place — you know, after home and work, it is a place to hang out and relax. We have created a community here.”
Customers are welcome to come in and shop or just to sit down and play games or read comics. The store offers a variety of comic books, disc golf, board games, collectible card games, darts and dart supplies. It also hosts game nights at the store and off-site in the community.
After hearing a customer joke that the only reason he leaves is to eat, Randazzo began thinking about adding a café.
“It’s been open about 2½ years, but no one really knows about it,” he said.“It’s the longest soft opening you’ve ever seen.”
He doesn’t advertise it at this point, so his customers are mainly his store customers and a few local businesses to which he caters.
He has named it the “Hidden Café” and it is open for lunch six days a week.
Both businesses are closed on Mondays. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch, and dinner is served Tuesdays and Fridays from 4-7 p.m. during Game Nights.
All the food is cooked fresh. The staff makes their own barbecue sauce and stocks for soups. Pulled pork is their specialty and is made with meat that is roasted for 12 hours.
“I became a foodie guy when Father Fats opened 14 years ago next door,” he said. “I was working for the local weekly newspaper at the time, and I did a story on it. I started eating there and cooking became my hobby. I took cooking lessons from the owner twice a week.”
Randazzo proves he is passionate about food as he lovingly describes his menu items and the joy he has putting it all together. “I added the restaurant here because I couldn’t talk myself out of it. I don’t know yet if it is a good idea,” he said.
When he started, he was doing 90 percent of the cooking and letting his other employees handle the retail business. Over time, he hired someone else to cook and now does 20-30 percent of the cooking.
“I went with the soft opening because I want to make sure I have my legs under me before we really launch it,” he said. “My philosophy is if the business has any chance, I need to be able to do every job well. I’m lucky I have great employees. It is impossible to put a dollar value on them.”
Today, both businesses employ a total of five people in addition to himself.
“When I started the café, I had to learn to manage a kitchen on the fly. I’m lucky to have had good mentors,” he said.
“Small business owners are in the best place they’ve been in a long time,” he said. “The pendulum is swinging back. The big box stores came in and offered lower prices, but not customer service in the way that we can. Now, people say what has happened to customer service? The staff in small businesses know their products. After decades of sub-par customer service, people now are willing to pay for it, even if they have to pay a little more. We can help people do their Google homework.”
The gaming world really changed about the time The Big Bang Theory hit the airwaves, he said. “All of a sudden, soccer moms were coming into the shop,” he said. “People were interested.”
Galaxy Games, Comics and More has been in its current location for more than seven years and recently expanded and renovated its space.
While Randazzo thinks the jury is still out on whether he made a good decision to leave the newspaper world for the retail and food worlds, he is enjoying every minute of his journey.