Former Epic Games Design Director Cliff Bleszinski has made a career change, of sorts. The man who developed Gears of War and introduced the chainsaw-armed Lancer weapon to video game fans is now cutting into Bahn Mi. Bleszinski, who is known to millions of fans as "Cliffy B," left Epic in October 2012 to follow new pursuits. He just launched a new game studio, Boss Key Productions, and is working on a new free-to-play shooter called Project Bluestreak. But while he was taking a short sabbatical from game development, he opened a watering hole in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he resides.
The Station at Person Street is a modern take on a 1910 Amoco gas station with over half of the seating, as well as a huge bar, located outside. The bar taps into local brews, including Aviator, Lonerider, Natty Greene's and Big Boss. Bleszinski has spent a lot of time at Raleigh bars, which is where he met and became friends with Niall Hanley, his partner with 30 years experience in the restaurant business.
"This restaurant thing is first and foremost about community," said Bleszinski. "It's about doubling down on the town that I love, Raleigh, the town in which I live. It's also about learning how to run a business. That's something that Mr. Hanley is very, very good at and he's kind of been acting as a big brother to me with that."
Bleszinski, who was the face of Epic Games for over 20 years and helped the company sell over 20 million copies of four Gears of War games, had an epiphany a few years ago while dining in New York City.
"This restaurant looked like chaos and then I realized everything is just systems," said Bleszinski. "The video game is systems that are operating together that the player manipulates. One thing I've learned about the restaurant business is to keep an eye on your ticket times and keep an eye on your customers. Make sure they're happy. If something's messed up, give them a free desert, etc. And one of the other rules I've learned is keep an eye on the bathroom. Because if the bathroom is not clean, that kitchen sure as hell isn't."
The goal is for The Station to become to a place where Raleigh locals go to grab a pint and enjoy the pleasant weather that seems to linger almost year-round in the area. "Raleigh is an amazing place that has grown since I moved here in 1998," said Bleszinski, who is from the Boston area. "You can get too far ahead of the curve in regards to being too fancy for Raleigh. That's why we opted for comfort food like meatloaf, mac and cheese, fried chicken and those kinds of things."
Locals will find Bleszinski hanging out at The Station from time to time, so he can make sure things are running well and learn more about the food biz. In fact, he's become so interested in pubs that he's launching a second establishment in Spring 2015. The Raleigh Beer Garden will be three times the size of The Station and feature over 300 draft beers.
"I want to make sure that the Beer Garden has a bit of a geek influence," said Bleszinski. "We'll have a couple of old school arcade games and some pinball machines to have that geek DNA. West Coast Barcades are absolutely huge, so we hope to have a little bit of that with 350 beers on draft and a great outdoor space for people to enjoy a pint on a nice Raleigh 80 degree day."