For Andy Lee, it all started with "Tron."
Not the 1982 sci-fi film starring Jeff Bridges, but rather the arcade game released alongside the film. Lee, who was around 7-years-old when the game was released fondly remembers spending time in his childhood arcades in Colorado and California, pumping quarters into the machine.
Now 41, Lee is combining his love of classic arcade games and coffee in a new business expected to open in Pasadena this summer.
"I grew up with them and I loved them so much," Lee said about his collection of some 30 vintage arcade games and pinball machines. "I just started thinking 'this would be a great combination' no one's ever tried it."
Lee expects his "Coffeecade" will open mid-summer. As of this week, he had signed a letter of intent to lease a location for the business off of Fort Smallwood Road.
Lee notes other than Dunkin' Donuts and Java Divas, on Ritchie Highway, Pasadena has no traditional coffee shops.
"Everybody wants a coffeeshop in Pasadena," he said.
In addition to a rotation of classic games, the shop will have "the best coffee on the East Coast," he said. Lee has recruited Annapolis Ceremony Coffee Roasters to serve as the shop's official roaster.
Lee first developed the idea of Coffeecade about two years ago. After spending a decade in the Marine Corps. including a particularly "rough" six-month deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan in 2013, he decided it was time for a career change.
"I really needed something else to do," he said.
Lee and his wife of nearly 16-years, Tracy, have two daughters, Liberty, 13, and Phoebe, 12. Tracy is Lee's business partner – though she's mainly focused on the coffee-side of the business, he said.
Lee served five deployments. He now works as a civilian for the Department of Defense at nearby Fort George G. Meade.
His family moved to Maryland six years ago.
In between deployments in 2013, he came across an online ad for an old arcade game being sold by a church in downtown Baltimore for $50. The game was "Tron" – or so it had been advertised.
It turned out it was a different, rarer game called "Discs of Tron." Still, he bought it.
After returning from Afghanistan, he began buying other machines. Lee estimates he's made some 40 trips up and down the East Coast to purchase and trade games.
All of the classics are lined up along the walls of his Pasadena garage – "Pac Man," "Galaga," "Q*bert" and, of course, "Tron."
Lee wanted to create a business around his love for the games, but knew he'd needed a specialized model. It's virtually impossible to make money in the traditional arcades of the 80s and 90s, he said.
Just the cost to repair and maintain machines can be exorbitant, he said. To reduce those costs, Lee has taken to making repairs on his own, studying owner's manuals and conducting his own online research.
At his Pasadena home Wednesday afternoon, Lee retrieved a board from inside one machine and explained how attached computer chips bring the games to life.
Classic arcade games and pinball are enjoying somewhat of renaissance.
In recent years, a number of arcade-themed bars, like "Barcade," have sprouted up along the East Coast. Glen Burnie's Crabtowne U.S.A. restaurant prides itself on its arcade of some 90 video games and pinball machines and has begun hosting a weekly pinball club that competes in a regional league.
But unlike the "Barcade"-concept, Lee was looking for more of a family-friendly atmosphere – a place where he could take his girls, he said.
The gaming area will be partitioned off from the café, so that those hoping to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee won't be overwhelmed by all the blips and bleeps of the machines, Lee said.
Lee and his wife have invested their life-savings in the business and have secured a number of loans, however, the 41-year-old declined to discuss the exact amount of funding in the business.
Someone launching a similar venture may invest somewhere between hundreds of thousands dollars and $1 million, Lee estimated – but he's had a lot of help along the way.
The Maryland Department of Commerce announced earlier this month it would provide $50,000 through its Military Personnel and Veteran-Owned Small Business No-Interest Loan program. The funding will help the company purchase equipment like coffee and ice machines, refrigerators, sinks and utensils.
"We are excited to support Andy Lee and his innovative approach to creating a family-friendly coffeehouse," Maryland Commerce Secretary Mike Gill said in a news release issued last month.
Lee worked with Maryland SCORE, a nonprofit that connects small businessowners with management consultants, to develop a business plan.
"He has a unique approach combining arcade games and coffee," said Dean Titcomb, a volunteer with Maryland SCORE, who served as Lee's mentor. "We're hoping that catches people's eye."
He was also able to secure interest-free loans through the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corp. Ceremony Coffee Roasters in Annapolis has also agreed to train baristas at no charge, Lee said.
"I could not do this myself," Lee said.