Everyone is talking about Abari. It’s probably one of the most anticipated business openings in Charlotte in recent memory. The owner and founder of Abari is Zach Pulliam. I’ve known Zach for a while now, and I’ve been excited about Abari for over a year, but only recently did I pay enough attention to see their connection. I stopped by recently and asked Zach if I could come in and speak to him about the new place.
I came in and found him him neck deep in a 2012 X-Men pinball machine. One of the secondary flippers wasn’t flipping properly. He opened it up, isolated the problem, and fixed it with a smear of greasing goop. Then we sat down and talked about what is going to make Abari special.
THE PITFALLS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Charlotte Burger Blog: So, we used to work together at Best Buy, the Midtown location.
Zach Pulliam: Correct, yeah.
Charlotte Burger Blog: How long ago was that?
Zach Pulliam: About 5 years ago, I would say. Yeah, 4 or 5. I went from Best Buy to doing IT at Wells [Fargo], then I went to TIAA Cref, and then I went to a smaller company that does IT for companies that are too small to have a full IT department. And then I quit so I could focus on this, because I thought we were going to open, and of course we didn’t. That was like, April [of last year]. About August I got a job at Bosch because I had to work again, and then I quit again in mid-December because we finally knew, like, hey, this is actually going to happen within the next two months.
Charlotte Burger Blog: Wow. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster.
Zach Pulliam: Yeah, all over the place.
Charlotte Burger Blog: Can you kind of walk me through that process?
Zach Pulliam: You know, you get made promises by people who …. really can’t make promises. For me, opening a business for the first time, there was a lot of things that I, obviously, didn’t know. What I have learned is don’t trust people. That’s basically the gist of it.
When we first signed the lease it was the 27th of January, 2015. So we moved in, and they were like, “yeah, spring time. That’s when we’re gonna have everything open.” We ran into some issues with zoning. The civil engineer we had originally received what needed to be fixed from [the zoning department], but they did nothing about it. We had to hire another civil engineer. They finally got everything worked out. I’m going to say that was probably July. After that, we got our permits about the 20th of August. And then we had issues with the General Contractor and, basically, he didn’t finish his work until the end of January 2016.
It was a very long process with a lot of people who were not completing their work in a timely manner. It was just annoying, you know? The General Contractor will tell you, “Yeah, definitely, everything will be done by this day.” Three weeks rolls around and the one thing they said was going to get done is still not done.
Charlotte Burger Blog: What was this place before? A warehouse?
Zach Pulliam: I’m not really sure. When we moved in here it was a lot different. It was all pretty much open. I’m going to say it was some sort of auto repair place, because there were a bunch of hooks in the back where it looks like they hung hoods.
Charlotte Burger Blog: So what all have you done to transform this place?
Zach: The concrete walls in certain areas have been bricked up, new plumbing, new drywall for the bathrooms, new electrical pretty much throughout this whole space. Obviously, painting and putting in the bar and all that good stuff.
Charlotte Burger Blog: So what were the zoning issues? Is it because you’re serving alcohol?
Zach: That was never an issue. The real issue was that when you’re turning an industrial space into retail they expect a lot of different things to be done. Externally and internally. One of the issues was parking, which goes kind of in hand with the alcohol thing. They want one space for 75 sq ft if you’re an eating, drinking, or entertainment establishment. That’s what we fall under. We had to make sure we had 41 parking spaces. That was one of the things that the second Civil Engineer got zoning to approve.
Charlotte Burger Blog: It doesn’t seem that, for a neighborhood place, that you would really need a ton of parking.
Zach: I agree. NODA really has no parking in general for most of its business. It’s kind of a curse and a blessing, because we have a lot of parking now. People know that if they come here they at least have somewhere to park.
INSIDE THE CABINETS
Charlotte Burger Blog: I definitely feel like there has been a huge embrace of this place online. I’ve seen so many people just get really excited about it.
Zach: It’s great. Obviously, this was my passion. That’s why I decided to do this. To see that people are on board with what I’ve envisioned is great. This is something that I’ve felt like Charlotte has sorely needed for a while. My thing is, when I drink with my friends, we got to the same bars. I get bored, because really there’s nothing to do. You play pool. You talk to your friends. I love my friends, but sometimes it’s just nice to go somewhere and know that you’ll have some other entertainment other than watching a tv. This is a place for people to come that, maybe don’t even regularly go to bars, but have a beer and play some games.
Charlotte Burger Blog: I love the selection of different games. Can you tell me about the selection process? Was it all just what was available, or have you curated the collection?
Zach: It’s kind of both. I’ve had a chance to buy a lot more than what I’ve got in here.
Charlotte Burger Blog: And now that you’re going to be successful, you’re going to get a lot more chances to buy stuff. People will be coming out of the woodwork to try to sell old games to you.
Zach: Yeah. A lot of them I knew I had to have. The one I actually went out of my way to purchase is Turtles in Time. That was actually my only eBay purchase. I specifically looked for it and found that. A lot of the other games I luckily just came upon. And they were ones I still wanted, like NBA Jam, Donkey Kong, The Simpsons, and even the 6 player X-Men. They just fell into my lap.
Charlotte Burger Blog: I love the pinball. Pinball’s my favorite thing to throw my quarters away at, because I’m terrible at it. I understand there’s a really hardcore set of pinball players in town.
Zach: Pinball players are what you said—they’re hardcore. They love pinball. It’s really exciting to have people who are enthusiastic to have pinball come here. We had people literally in here every night, 6 days in a row, playing pinball, which is, to me, incredible.
Charlotte Burger Blog: When I came in I saw you fixing the X-Men machine. How much did you know about fixing the machines before you opened Abari?
Charlotte Burger Blog: So you’ve learned all this in the past year?
Zach: Yeah. Um, the internet is your friend. There are tons of great communities that are willing to help. If you shoot out a problem they’ll generally have some good feedback. I’ve been able to pick up on things over the past year, where I know if this happens, it’s probably this. And so on and so forth.
Luckily, most of the stuff really has been good since we opened. The first two days we had to fix a lot of stuff over and over again, but once it kind of normalized everything was fine. Pins are going always break.
Charlotte Burger Blog: There’s so many moving parts. They’re not just electronics.
Zach: Yeah. Like that [the problem with the X-Men pinball] was a mechanical issue. Sometimes it’s mechanical, sometimes it’s electric…
Charlotte Burger Blog: So it’s just a fun guessing game.
MORE THAN JUST GAMES
Charlotte Burger Blog: Talk to me about the bar side of this, cause you have a really good beer selection. There’s a lot of local stuff.
Zach: That’s all James. James [Murphy] has had about 10 years of experience in bars and bar management. He’s been with me ever since January of last year, that’s how dedicated he has been to helping Abari and me out. He’s just as excited, ‘cause this is his vision from a bar standpoint. It’s been his decision on what we should carry, which has been pretty eclectic. There’s something for everyone. And then his later additions will be in the form of cocktails. We want things that everyone will enjoy. We want good beers, we want good cocktails. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a beer fan, we want to have something that will be tasty and unique to us.
Charlotte Burger Blog: And then later you’re going to have food trucks?
Zach: Yeah, actually we’ve been talking with a lot recently. At the Grand Opening [on March 26th] we’ll have What’s the Fries, which is like loaded fries plus burgers. We’ve got a new one, that’s just started, actually, they just got their permits ready and their truck ready and is hopefully coming this weekend. They have Po’ Boys and barbecue and stuff like that. And then we had this weekend a soda truck. They are also new. They have homemade sodas and floats, which is great for when we had the kids in from 12-5. They eat it up, plus it’s really eye-catching. From the road you see this really cool truck and a lot of people were just stopping in for that.
Charlotte Burger Blog: That sounds great. I want to ask you one more question. It seems like very soon you will have started something, and there are apparently some other arcade bars that will be opening in Charlotte very soon. What’s going to make Abari stand out from these other options?
Zach: Really, it comes down to passion. It comes down to knowing what people want. I’m a gamer. I know what people like. I know what I like, obviously, and I think I have the want to keep these games in good condition, to bring in new games that people I know will want to play, and I think that’s one thing that will really make us stand out. And from the bar perspective, the stuff we’re planning on doing with really limited release beers, with great fresh cocktails, all home-made ginger beer, sour mixes. We’ll have fresh ingredients going into our cocktails. When people come they’ll remember, hey, not only did I get a really good drink here, but they also had great games.
I’m all for more arcades. I will go and play at another arcade if they have a game I don’t have or I would love to play. I don’t really see it as competition. I see it more as a community of players.
Thanks so much to Zach for taking the time to speak with me. It’s exciting to see a passionate person put together so much hard to work to make something special.
You can like Abari on Facebook here. Abari is open now, but it’s kind of a soft opening. The official Grand Opening is this Saturday, March 26th. It seems like it’ll be a big exciting event. I certainly plan to be there.