Local pinball enthusiasts Tom and Jessica Walker launched Brewcades with partner Pete Cooley, offering a dozen playable machines at one of Laguna Beach Beer Co.’s tasting rooms.
By Sharon Stello
There’s something exciting about the lights and sounds of a pinball machine, with themes from “Jurassic Park” to “Elvira” or “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and the thrill of that last-minute flick of a flipper that saves your ball.
It’s an adrenaline rush that Laguna Beach couple Tom and Jessica Walker know all too well. Pinball is more than a hobby for these collectors, who started a venture this past fall called Brewcades with a dozen pinball machines (both vintage and modern varieties) at Laguna Beach Beer Co.’s tasting room in Huntington Beach. Grab a roll of quarters and play until your heart’s content, all while sipping on a local brew, of course.
The husband-and-wife duo, who live in Top of the World and have raised four kids together, are pursuing this new endeavor with Brewcades partner and technician Pete Cooley—who keeps the games in tip-top shape (and recently had one of his restored machines in the “Licorice Pizza” film). In addition to regular pinball play, there are often tournaments for all skill levels and special events like free games for buying a beer. Brewcades hosted its first official tournament sanctioned by the International Flipper Pinball Association on Jan. 30.
The Walkers, who grew up in coastal Orange County—Jessica even had a job making juice at The Stand Natural Foods as a teen—eventually moved up to Oregon, but returned to Southern California in 2019. They love the concept of bars combined with arcades and enjoyed having so many places to play in the Pacific Northwest. There are good spots in SoCal, too, but definitely room for more, they say. The idea for adding pinball to a local tasting room came about after conversations between one of the beer company’s owners and Jessica, whose Airstream-based Momeh Boutique is near the brewery’s Laguna space in The Hive shopping center.
“So when they offered us the opportunity to put machines in Huntington, we jumped at the chance because they are great people, and beer and pinball is a great combination,” the Brewcades team says.
Here, the Walkers and Cooley talk about pinball and life in OC. And in true team fashion, they answered most of these questions as a group effort.
Is Brewcades a business or a passion project or both?
Brewcades Team: Brewcades is definitely a passion project. Everything goes back into maintaining and upkeeping the machines. Eventually, it would be great to expand and make a profit, but for now we are focusing on building a community of players that appreciate what we are doing. … We want our spot to be known for having a great lineup to play, where the machines work great and are properly maintained and cared for.
You currently have a dozen machines at the brewery’s Huntington Beach location?
BT: We have 12 awesome machines in Huntington, ranging from the 1960s all the way up until current day, and some rare ones that you just don’t see out in the wild very often. And we are constantly changing it up and adding new machines, too. We keep the lineup listed on an app called
pinballmap.com, so you can always see what is playing there. We don’t want to jinx it, but if it continues being successful out in HB, we would love to get some games at other LBBC locations. But for now, we are focusing on making the spot in Huntington the best it can be.
What do you love about pinball?
BT: There is so much to love about pinball. There’s the art, the nostalgia, the fun, the competitive aspect. Each machine is so unique, the engineering is amazing. Plus, there is nothing like getting in the zone and becoming one with the machine.
How did you get into playing pinball?
BT: Pete bought his first machine at 13 back in 1971—a 1964 Williams “Zig Zag”—and that started his passion for owning and operating pinball machines, a passion that has evolved into an obsession ever since. Tom and Jessica are kids of the ’80s and grew up during the arcade era, and pinball was a big part of that—especially [at] the Balboa Fun Zone. Later, when we were living in Oregon, friends of ours started a vintage arcade and that started us playing and collecting games.
How many machines do you have?
BT: Pete owns 156 pinball machines at last count, and owns most of the games at the LBBC vintage arcade. Tom and Jessica own six machines that they have in their house—and Tom is working to restore a couple up to Pete’s standards so we can rotate them through the lineup.
What’s your favorite machine of all time?
BT: Pete says [the] 1966 Gottlieb “Cross Town.” … Tom is a fan of “Scared Stiff,” the Elvira-themed game at LBBC. And Jessica loves Bally’s “Skateball” pinball machine for it’s retro ’70s/’80s skateboarding vibe—and she owns one, so we hope to get that in there soon.
What do you like about vintage pinball machines?
BT: The older “electromechanical” ones are way underrated. People don’t give them a chance. The rules are simple, but challenging. Everyone thinks newer is better and, because of this, the ’60s and ’70s [ones] are overlooked. At the LBBC, we have one from the ’60s called “Buckaroo” and it is awesome once you realize there are actually objectives and that it is not just random. By the way, “Buckaroo” is the game Elton John was playing in the film “Tommy.”
Jessica, in addition to Brewcades, you own Momeh Boutique, which you first started in Oregon?
Jessica Walker: Yes, I was located in the university district near University of Oregon, which was an awesome first spot to introduce Momeh as a shop, as we had only been online. Then, [we] moved down to Laguna Beach … [and opened] … during the pandemic, if you can believe it. We proposed a July Fourth weekend pop-up [at The Hive] and are now a staple in the complex. … As of now, we offer eco-friendly options: a refill station, soaps, lifestyle and pantry goods, oils, rituals, records and [we] host local artists.
What do you like about living in Laguna Beach?
JW: Laguna Beach is one of the most unique beach cities on the West Coast. I love walking around town. We have some of the most magical shops, restaurants and neighborhoods. I moved here, went to University High School [in Irvine] and worked locally here back in ’93-’94. I walked the canyon to save [it] from the toll roads, became part of the community and made connections as a young resident. [I] would hike and trek the caves, I surfed up and down the coast, [and] also used to skate the area. … Laguna was lush and rad. It had an energy about it that people would come from surrounding cities to take in.