Filling a Niche with a Unique Business Concept -- Pieces: Board Game Bar and Restaurant

Board game business owner welcomes customers to her store

The daughter of an immigrant who moved back to the Philippines and a first generation Irish-American father who passed away when she was 17, Laura Leister’s adult life began with unstable housing and a brief period of homelessness. Despite her challenges, she graduated from high school while unhoused and worked full-time at a restaurant while attending Temple University, where she also completed law school. She developed a passion for hospitality during those college years. When she graduated from law school she saved aggressively while working at a law firm devoted to municipal economic development. She loved working with small businesses in economic development, but decided she wanted to be on the other side of the equation as the owner of a restaurant.

Laura eventually moved back to St. Louis, where she previously clerked for a brief period for a Circuit Court judge, and gathered the financial and human capital resources and used her economic development experience to launch Pieces: Board Game Bar and Restaurant, a full-service restaurant and board game lounge in the Soulard Historic Neighborhood, in 2016 with her husband and a friend who moved here along with them in order to start the business. It was a place for her inner geek to hang out and turned out to be a hit for those who also harbor an inner geek. Pieces is family friendly, and the wait for tables on the weekends can exceed three hours.

While operating Pieces, Laura noticed the lack of a coffee shop in the Soulard neighborhood. She opened Protagonist Café as a coffee shop and a place to read, work, study, and craft in 2019. While books were originally just part of the décor, because of customer demand, Protagonist started selling used books. They also host how-to crafting and wine tasting nights. Pieces has an in-house bakery which supplies the pastry needs for Protagonist Café along with filling custom customer orders.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Pieces was unable to stay open because of restrictions on non-essential businesses. They tried reopening briefly in the summer, but ended up closing for a year. Protagonist Café pivoted to carryout service during the pandemic. Because it was what her employees felt most comfortable with, Protagonist Café kept a mask requirement in place long after the city of St. Louis lifted the mandate. She used SBA Paycheck Protection Program loans to pay and keep Pieces and Protagonist employees during the pandemic. That, along with the Protagonist Café proceeds allowed the two businesses to survive the pandemic. Over 70% of her work force returned when she reopened Pieces since Laura was able to continue paying them and because of her collaborative management style which allows room for failure.

Laura is passionate about the Soulard neighborhood, serving as a Community Improvement District (CID) Commissioner, where she works with fellow board members to foster tourism and improve resident satisfaction. She also works as a director of the Soulard Business Association (SBA) which helps Soulard businesses with free marketing and increased revenue through unique initiatives. Laura is also a member of the Soulard Restoration District (SRD), the residential committee for the community. She frequently speaks at naturalization ceremonies for new citizens, inspiring them with her story.

Laura recently won St. Louis District Office 2024 Small Business Advocate of the Year.

This article does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the SBA of any opinions, products, or services of any private individual or entity.