Editor’s note: Only the brave would dare to open a small business during a global pandemic. This is the third story in a four-part series celebrating entrepreneurs who launched their ventures under the shadow of COVID-19.
A new restaurant in Hilo combines a passion for pizza with a love of video games.
Owner Justin Ambagis opened Antics Pizza and Games on June 20 on the corner of Kinoole and Ponahawai streets.
Ambagis already had created a business plan for a pizza restaurant with video games for customers before the COVID-19 pandemic. After Gov. David Ige shut down the state in March, his investors gave him the option to bail out.
“I have had opportunities throughout my life that I didn’t take,” Ambagis said last month. “I did not want that to happen again. I wanted to make this opportunity real.”
When he found the space for Antics, Ambagis signed the lease and received some startup money from his father. After he bought a dough mixer, Ambagis was all in.
“I am someone that rolls with the punches, and I’ve always been flexible,” Ambagis said. “But I’m lucky that I’m working with investors that want to see me succeed. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.”
Before writing the business plan, Ambagis was with his son one day when he came up with the idea to offer video games inside the restaurant.
“Antics as an idea is the culmination of my life,” Ambagis said. “My son and I like playing games and eating pizza, and we wanted to make a place where we could do that.”
Although Antics had a slow start when it opened, Ambagis was thankful to have some extra time and to not be inundated with new customers.
“I was kind of happy it was slow going, because I am figuring things out as we go,” Ambagis said. “It’s given us time to add more art to the walls, come up with more pizza recipes and become more efficient as a unit.”
In the beginning, Antics only served dinner from 4-8 p.m., but has since expanded to noon-9 p.m. every weekday. The restaurant also started offering pizza by the slice from noon-3 p.m.
“I am still closed on the weekends right now, because it’s my only quality time with my son,” Ambagis said. “I’m hoping to expand the hours when I have better ability to hire more people.”
More people have discovered Antics and have been enamored with the concept of playing old-school video games while eating pizza.
Each booth in the restaurant has a different gaming system that two customers at a time can play for free. On the other side, there are computers set up for more modern games that are hooked up to Wi-Fi.
“We’ve decided to make the games free because everyone is having a hard time with the pandemic,” Ambagis said. “We want to keep everything as low priced as possible right now.”
Ambagis has been thrilled with the reviews he’s gotten about the pizza served at Antics. The staff has curated a creative menu of pizzas using fresh, local ingredients.
“I think we’ve filled a gap that was missing in the community,” Ambagis said. “Our pizza is different compared to the larger pizza chains, and the games add to the restaurant and make it unique.”
When he’s able to acquire more money from sales, Ambagis hopes to expand the restaurant, the menu and all aspects of Antics. However, these ideas will have to wait until after the pandemic, according to Ambagis.
While opening during a pandemic has made business operations more difficult, Ambagis is excited to see where the business will go.
“This is a marathon, not a race,” Ambagis said. “I’m happy that we’ve had at least one customer every day, and seeing that people like us is exciting for me.”
Antics is open for dine in and takeout from noon-9 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Email Kelsey Walling at firstname.lastname@example.org