An Old-School Arcade Restaurant Has Big Plans for the Mission

A Mission District arcade called Joey The Cat has been operating as a private skee-ball palace for the last three years, but now owner Joey Mucha says he’s ready to transform it into a family-friendly full restaurant and bar, with food provided by a “young and hungry chef” with a flair for meals customers can eat while playing.

Mucha’s family has owned the building that houses his collection of classic arcade games since 2014. It’s a former auto body shop at Shotwell and 19th streets that Mucha turned into a spot to work on the boardwalk-style games he dispatches to 17 bars and restaurants across the city — places like Trademark and Woods Island Club.

“I started playing skee-ball at Chuck E. Cheese,” says Mucha, who tells Eater SF that he was taught by a dad who steered him away from video games and toward more midway-style pursuits. “I was never into those games with screens,” he says, apparently way ahead of these current, display-ambivalent times even as a child. Eventually, Mucha turned that hobby into a rental and repair business. The next logical step, he says, was to open an arcade in his space at 3252 19th Street.

Converting the storage space to an arcade that hosts corporate and private events — as he’s been doing for the past three years — ran afoul of city regulations, Mucha eventually learned. Pivoting, he sought — and received — city approval to transform the spot into not just an arcade but a full restaurant and bar, all open to the public.

The goal is “wholesome family fun,” Mucha says, something that he says is impossible at San Francisco’s other arcade bars. “I don’t want this to be a place where you just get wasted and play games,” he says, “I want a place for family birthday parties,” with adults and kids eating a meal as they vie for prizes instead of “just having some drinks, playing a game, and going home.”

There’s a long road between a restaurant’s city approval (which, in Joey The Cat’s case, was only granted last week, Mission Local reports) and taking its first food order. Mucha says that his next step is to begin a full build-out of a kitchen space — and as he moves forward on those plans, he’s hoping to find “an up-and-coming chef to partner with” for what Mucha calls “a culinary residency,” to create a fast-casual dining experience with a menu of “food that’s consumable whilst playing games.”

Mucha says that food can take any form, depending on the chef — and he’s actively on the hunt to fill that role. He’s proposing a novel business relationship for the right up-and-comer, saying that instead of hiring a chef as an employee or renting space to a vendor, he’s offering “a revenue share” to someone eager for an opportunity to “build a brand and create a brick-and-mortar of their own.”

According to Mucha, this “isn’t a pop-up,” and he pitches the endeavor as “a pretty unique use case in a very tough market for restaurants.” Assuming everything falls into place, Joey The Cat will open as an arcade, restaurant, and bar by spring of 2020, allowing guests to play games like The Claw and Whac-A-Mole while eating food from San Francisco’s next big thing.

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