A Ms. Pac-Man addiction? A secret longing for karaoke? Too many years since a jello shot?
GameOn Bar & Arcade — in the business of having fun — is riding a wave of pinball-wizard-style growth and success as it answers consumer demand for some arcade fun in a more modern setting. Operated by Casey Linthicum and her husband Eli, the arcade’s latest location in Columbia’s Merriweather District will add to its sites in Annapolis and Baltimore.
In addition to arcade games, karaoke, food and drinks, GameOn also hosts private events, especially corporate team building, bachelor parties, birthday parties, and company happy hours.
Though she terms her entrepreneurial spirit “more on the newer side,” Linthicum did grow up with what she calls “a fierce and consistent work ethic” she learned from her father.
“My whole life my Dad taught me that with a positive attitude and hard work you can achieve anything,” she said.
In fact, there was a time she thought she’d follow in her hardworking father’s footsteps as a successful McDonald’s franchisee.
But she ultimately struck out on her own in what she acknowledges was a very tough decision. She had been, she said, “full-speed ahead at McDonald’s” for six years. She has been approved as an owner-operator, owned the McDonald’s in Maple Lawn, and supervised a few other McDonald’s franchises.
“However, once my Dad started talking to me about retiring — and asked if I wanted to continue taking over more of his restaurants or if I wanted to do something else — I started thinking more and more that this could be the perfect opportunity to shoot my next shot,” said Linthicum. “My dad was supportive of anything I wanted to do, as was Eli and the rest of our family.”
Once she made the decision, she never second-guessed herself. About to celebrate the one-year anniversary of GameOn, she said she’s never been happier. “I was most sad to leave some of my teammates that I had worked closely with for years but we still keep in touch,” she said. “Eli and I had the opportunity to create something from the ground up; we’ve built a brand, have a great and dynamic team, and our business is growing. Life is great.”
Eli was previously director of operations for the YMCA of Greater New York for about five years before moving back to Maryland and running Urban Axes in Baltimore. “We had visited a small arcade bar on a trip to New York City, and always had the idea in the backs of our minds to do something like that — but on a larger scale,” said Linthicum.
Not all married couples can work together as a business team. For the Linthicums, having a sense of humor is key. “Eli and I are not only great partners in life and work but we’re also best friends which really helps,” she said. “We have a lot of different strengths and that really balances us out.”
While Eli is a “big picture” person and comes up with a lot of the more creative ideas for their business — the new karaoke rooms at the Annapolis location, for example — Casey Linthicum acknowledges that she’s more detail-oriented.
With two very young children — son Brix is 2 and daughter Charlie is 1 — the couple also knows when to ask for help.
“We’re so fortunate to have a very supportive network of family and friends,” said Linthicum. “Eli’s mother, Jane, helps us with the kids so much. I don’t know what we’d do without her.
“Having two under two plus two brand new businesses was a little crazy but also the best time of my life,” she said. “Eli also has an older son, Mazi, who he adopted when he was 24 and Mazi was 12.”
When Mazi became a father as well, the Linthicums became grandparents. “Our kids are the cutest, happiest kids, and since they’re really close in age they are like two little best friends,” said Linthicum. “Brix loves hanging out at GameOn and we’ve been storing a few pinballs at our house that we already bought for Columbia, so I’m pretty sure he’s the best 2-year old pinball player in the world!”
Operating with a sense of newness in both family and work alike has paid off for the Linthicums. GameOn was nationally ranked during the past year in the Top 21 Best Arcades in the United States. They’re shooting for the number-one spot next year.
“We were and still are so excited about this,” said Linthicum. “One of the greatest feelings in the world, at least for me, is working so hard at something and then actually receiving concrete proof that you’re doing a good job.”
Filling a void
As for the new Columbia location, the Linthicums have long known that Columbia needs more nightlife.
Casey Linthicum grew up in Glenwood, attending Glenelg High School, while Eli is from Columbia and went to Oakland Mills, though they didn’t meet until they were adults.
“Eli and I are excited to bring the ultimate adult’s night out to our hometown,” said Linthicum. “Howard County needs more nightlife options for this thriving and growing community, and we are so excited to be bringing GameOn closer to home.”