Button Mash Arcade Bar Tries Unique Fundraising Effort to Save Business Amid Pandemic

Button Mash Bar Main Interior - Publicity - H 2017
Laure Joliet

After furloughing the majority of its 33 employees, Echo Park's Button Mash has teamed with video game collectible company iam8bit to raise funds by offering a range of memorabilia, cookbooks, in-store tokens, comics, soundtracks and more.

Button Mash, a bar and restaurant in Los Angeles' Echo Park neighborhood that features an array of classic video game cabinets and pinball machines alongside its food and beverage offerings, has teamed with collectible company iam8bit to raise funds to help the struggling business amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Button Mash Quarantine Boredom Pack offers a range of collectibles, cookbooks, in-store tokens, comics, soundtracks and more. With donation tiers ranging from $25 to $1,000, all of the proceeds from the promotion will go to helping the restaurant and its furloughed staff.

"This fundraiser was largely spearheaded by iam8bit and some other good friends and fans of ours," Jordan Weiss, co-owner of Button Mash, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We were trying to find a fun way to do a fundraiser while operating the restaurant in a limited capacity."

Button Mash and iam8bit have had a close relationship since the restaurant first opened in 2015, with the collectibles company subleasing a small room in the bar and operating its own shop. 

Button Mash has been hit hard by the current lockdown in Los Angeles, as, being both a bar and an arcade, the majority of its business was deemed "unessential." The kitchen, however, is still operational and the restaurant has stayed afloat by doing takeout and delivery orders. As a result, Button Mash has shifted its hours to only operating on weekend evenings. 

"We furloughed almost our entire staff," says Weiss. "We're really just running the place with myself, Gabe Fowlkes, my co-owner, two people in the kitchen and a little bit of extra help on certain days when needed. We went from a staff of 30, not including Gabe and myself, to two."

Takeout and delivery business has been "good enough to continue doing weekend services," says Weiss, but notes that delivery services — such as PostMates, Uber Eats, Caviar and the like — haven't done much to help out on the financial strain.

"They've extended a lot to the customers and made it seem like they're trying to help, but offering free delivery to [customers] doesn't do much to help the restaurant itself," he says. "One of the conversations that's starting to emerge as people find time to focus on it is, these businesses are very predatory. They take a pretty significant cut."

Weiss does say that his business is eligible for grants from the federal government, as part of the recently passed $2.2 trillion CARES Act stimulus package approved by President Donald Trump last month. However, he has run into issues on that front, as well. 

"We are in the process of applying [for a loan]," he says. "But it's predictably devolved into chaos since the application portal opened last Friday. [The small business loan program] is designed to allow people to keep staff or bring furloughed staff members back and allow restaurants to hit the ground running when the dust settles."

Button Mash's interior is filled almost wall-to-wall with classic video game arcade cabinets and pinball machines, from Frogger to Donkey Kong to Burger Time. The business owns the majority of the cabinets, with the exception of a few pinball machines. While business is down at the moment, Weiss says it hasn't gotten bad enough to think about selling the cabinets.

"We had one person contact us about potentially renting one of them, but it doesn't seem worth it at this time," he says.

While times are rough for the business, Weiss says the community has been behind Button Mash. "We've gotten lots of support from regulars, the locals, people ordering take-out. It's been really nice and reassuring," he says. "A ton of places are doing GoFundMe campaigns to stay afloat, but what makes this a little different is that it's not structured like a charity, even though it is one. What makes it really special is that this was spearheaded by people who love Button Mash, not the people who own Button Mash."