New board game cafe to open in Ped Mall

A new type of cafe will open in downtown Iowa City’s Ped Mall, themed around board games. Owned by Iowa City resident Justin Ford, Fortuna will open this fall.


Larry Phan

A shelf of board games is shown from the inside of the board cafe, Fortuna in Iowa City on Sept. 29, 2021.

Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

Michigan native Justin Ford grew up playing board games with his family. Whether it was Monopoly, Connect 4, Clue, or any others, Ford has always had a love for competitive tabletop games, and still frequently plays with his family. Now, he is bringing that adoration to Iowa City, with a new cafe named “Fortuna.”

Named after the Roman goddess of luck, the establishment is a board game cafe — a place where people can play board games that also happens to serve coffee, Ford said. Customers will be able to stop in, pay a cover charge of $6, and select a board game to play. Some of the staff at Fortuna, called “game gurus,” will help patrons choose a game and learn how to play for the best possible experience.

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

After moving to Iowa City six years ago, the coffee shop owner saw a gap in the market of board game cafes. Two years ago, he began to draw up financial plans for a hypothetical business, to see why someone hadn’t already opened one in Iowa City. After realizing he had already taken the first steps to owning a cafe, Ford decided to commit to it.

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

Fortuna is located downtown on the Pedestrian Mall at 105 E. College St. Although it is not yet officially open, Ford said people are welcome to stop by. He has already hired a full staff and bought several new board games — some to sell as retail products and some for people to play indoors.

“I think this business has a lot of potential for Iowa City,” Ford said. “We need more stuff in the Ped Mall that’s not just a bar or food or shopping, but something to do.”

The cafe will serve Illycaffè coffee, an Italian brand that Ford specifically selected. There will also be fresh popcorn available, sourced from a vendor in Cedar Rapids. Ford said the cafe is finalizing the details of other menu options, and he hopes to have pastries and other sweet treats for sale.

Ford mainly works in environmental analysis and industrial hygiene, and has experience with analyzing air quality. He emphasized that opening a business in the COVID-19 era is no easy feat, but he will make Fortuna as safe as possible with air filters and mask requirements for all staff.

Ford said the cafe is in its “beta version,” and will open officially this fall, although there is no specific date set. Ultimately, he emphasized that Fortuna will be a unique place where residents of Iowa City can come to hang out with friends for an experience that is different from other locations.

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