Casper by Gaslight

By: Nick Perkins

We were the magnificent dreamers
In secret lamplight hideouts
We swore the world couldn’t break us
Even when the world took us down
-Gaslight Anthem, ‘We’re Getting a Divorce, You Keep the Diner’

“Students, take your seats,” the Business Professor at the University of Wyoming stated. “Let’s discuss your thesis.”

This was the moment he was waiting for. He had been sitting on this idea for years, ever since he first took the job at the bar on Custer Street. Growing up in a bowling alley/bar, this was not a strange world for him- he had lived in it his entire life. His father owned El-Marco Lanes back in Casper, which taught him a lot of things about the bar business, but also about business in general. This is what led to him pursuing his Master’s Degree in Business to begin with. Now, he wanted to put that knowledge and experience to use. For his thesis, he would come up with a business plan to develop a new bar in Laramie.

He told his first professor about his idea, and was immediately deflated.

“If you use this idea for your business plan, I promise you will fail,” his professor said.

Dejected, he sought out a 2nd opinion from a different professor for whom he held a great degree of respect. 

He got the same answer.

“If you pursue this idea, you are not going to pass.”

And that could have been the end of it. He could have given up his dream of creating his own bar. He could have developed a plan for a hotel or a restaurant or any number of other start-up businesses that might have impressed his professors. But he didn’t quit. He didn’t change his plan. He had Great Expectations, sure. But he believed in himself and he believed in his idea and he believed that this plan could succeed. He had desire, experience and luck on his side.

Now, he just needed a plan.

Matt Galloway was born into this business. His father, Van, opened El-Marco Lanes/Galloways Pub in 1990, when Galloway was 15 years old. Matt did everything the son of a business owner was expected to do. He cleaned bathrooms, ran food orders and washed dishes. He also watched. He studied. He took notes on how to successfully run a business. He took that experience with him to college in Laramie, Wyoming. After a few years, a few degrees and a few stories to tell, he came back to Casper with a Masters and a plan. While working at the Fireside bar, in Laramie, Galloway learned first-hand how much work it took to run a bar.

“I worked [at Fireside] for a week and after that week, I was promoted to manager, “Galloway said of his time in Laramie. “You talk about getting thrown to the wolves. The first night I was working, we didn’t have any money. The owner was pretty loose with everything so I ended up having to call a friend to go to the ATM with my card. I pulled out my own money to make change for the register. He was impressed with how I figured that out, so I was the manager within a week.”

Galloway spent many years working at the Fireside, which is where he came up with the skeleton of an idea for his own bar. He graduated, worked at Sidelines back in Casper for a year, gaining even more experience and then he moved to Denver. He opened a bar in the mile-high city, which he eventually sold to the Melting Pot in Ft. Collins. Galloway liked Denver fine, but it wasn’t home. Casper was home. And Casper was where he wanted to succeed.

In 2004, Galloway called his dad up and asked if he could take over the family business. Knowing how hard his son worked, Van Galloway quickly agreed…but he had a caveat.

“Don’t ruin my bar.”

Matt didn’t intend to. In fact, he saw the potential for growth and that potential manifested itself in 2011, when Galloways opened their new addition.

“It had this little niche because it was hip and cool,” Galloway said of the bar. “We didn’t have a sign; it was kind of a backdoor bar. We had our bowling clientele but we also had this outside clientele that was coming in specifically for the bar. That just kept building and it started to build until it hit a breaking point.”

That breaking point led to the addition and, suddenly (even though it took years), Galloways had become one of Casper’s biggest and best bars. Bowlers still frequented the pub, but it was now open to a whole new generation of patrons. This led to the creation of Keg and Cork, a similarly-themed bar on the East side of town, which was an equally-successful venture.

One of the biggest mistakes that a business owner can make, whether the business is a restaurant or a bar, is to think that just because one establishment is successful, another would be as well. Said owner then creates another establishment that, effectively, takes half of the other establishment’s business.

Galloway said this process is called business cannibalism and it’s something that plagues countless bars and restaurants. Still, despite this, he wanted to try his luck one more time. He was 2-0 with his bars, but now he wanted to swing for the fences. Should he strikeout, though, he could lose it all.

But he had a plan.

“And it feels like all you’d have to do is step outside
Stop pacing around and waiting for some moment that might never arrive
But you’re never gonna find it
Like when you were young and everybody used to call you Lucky”
– Gaslight Anthem, ‘Stay Lucky’

“I got lucky,” Galloway said when discussing everything that went into creating The Gaslight Social. “Business 101 says that you should never go into business with partners and I heeded that advice for a long time and only worked with family. But I was lucky enough to go into business with some amazing people.”

Some business owners knew the potential that Downtown Casper had and prepared accordingly. Others were…not so sure. Galloway admitted that he had no idea what The District could become and was even, at first, a bit stubborn. He had just invested a lot of time and money into establishments on the East and West side of town. But it didn’t take long for him to come around.

“About 2 years ago I heard the rumblings about David Street Station and heard about this vibe that they were trying to create downtown,” Galloway said. “Then I realized, it’s probably going to happen. It’s a reality because that’s what most towns are doing. I said that I’d rather be on the inside looking out than on the outside looking in.”

So he did some digging. He started formulating a plan. He scouted locations downtown. He partnered with Richard Bratton and, incredibly, he found that there was a liquor license hiding in plain sight that was not being used by anybody in the community.

“I did a lot of legwork and found that there had been a liquor license parked at the city for years and no one knew about it,” Galloway stated. “I called everybody, from the city manager at the time to Carla who basically runs all of this stuff and nobody knew; it took them two or three weeks to figure out ‘Wow, we really do have this license.’”

“I said ‘You do. I want it. I want to buy it.’”

At first, the City of Casper agreed that since Galloway had found the license, he could be the one to buy it. But, after some deliberation, it was decided that it would be fair to offer it to all interested parties. Galloway and 4 or 5 other business owners all put together a proposal, detailing how they would utilize the liquor license. It eventually went to John Huff, owner of Yellowstone Garage.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get it,” Galloway remembered. “But they did give it to John Huff and I don’t slight them for that. John Huff is Yellowstone District. He is the Godfather, so I didn’t slight them for that. Did it hurt? Yeah. It hurt because I discovered it, but John definitely deserved it.”

So, Galloway and Bratton went back to the drawing board. Luckily, Galloway had a Plan B.

“I was able to figure out that there were some hotels in town that were sitting on retail liquor licenses when they actually could be applying for a resort license,” he said.

By helping one of the hotels apply for a resort license, he was able to procure their original liquor license. It was a win-win situation. Now he just needed a location.

As luck would have it, an old friend of Galloway’s, Pete Maxwell, just bought the building that formerly housed “The ARC of Natrona County.”

“Pete and I, in the past, had talked about owning a bar together and he asked if I would still be interested in doing that,” Galloway said. “I went ‘Oh my God, you have no idea how good your timing is.’ So Pete and Richie and my brother and I partnered up and opened what is The Gaslight Social.”

It was a lofty idea. How many bar owners open up not one, not two, but three bars in the same (not very big) city? It was a perfect example of Business Cannibalism and it was destined to fail.

Except it didn’t.

This was due, primarily, to the fact that all 4 partners wanted this new venture to be more than just a bar. They wanted it to be a bar and a restaurant and a venue and a lounge. They also had one more idea.

They wanted to put in an arcade.

“The beauty of this place is that it’s got 4 views,” Galloway admitted. “This wasn’t all my idea. It wasn’t all Richie’s, it wasn’t all Pete’s and it wasn’t all Mark’s. We were able to come together and we all had these great ideas. Pete loved the arcade idea. I wanted a venue where we could do music; that’s always been my passion. Mark wanted a place with more lounge seating. We got to thinking- why don’t we do all of this? We’ve got this huge blueprint, let’s bring it all into one.”

So, they did. They built and they renovated and they hired. They worked hard to open in time for the 2017 Eclipse Festival and they almost had everything put together. But then, somebody asked a very important question.

“What do we call it?”

Galloway knew he wanted to include the word ‘Social’ in whatever they called this new Barcade/Eatery. He wanted it to be a social place, where people of all ages and backgrounds could meet and drink and break bread together. He wanted it to be a place that had something for everybody, a truly ‘social’ event. It was a good idea, but they needed more. Luckily, one of the men had just returned from a business trip and had been in a bar that was lit entirely by gaslight. It was beautiful and it was exactly the spark that the partners needed.

It didn’t come without some backlash, however, thanks to a term that has become en vogue for millennials.

“Gaslighting in its truest sense is [a term] from the early 1900’s, and it basically means convincing someone they’re crazy when they’re not,” Galloway revealed. “I don’t want to offend anybody and my heart goes out to anybody that has been subjected to that form of domestic violence.”

Ultimately, they kept the name and The Gaslight Social was born.

In its short existence, The Gaslight Social has more than lived up to its name. It has become the social event of each week. It’s had its share of growing pains and peaks and valleys and girls claiming they got shot when actually they just got really drunk and tried to hop a fence. There have been struggles and there have been lessons learned. But, The Gaslight Social has become everything that Galloway and his partners envisioned. From the games to the food, to the cocktails being served- everything has fit together. This is especially true of the employees.

“As a family, we have been so blessed with devoted employees,” Galloway said. “At the Keg and Cork, there are people there who have been there since day one and we’ve been open since 2013. That’s a lot to say in this industry and it spilled over to Gaslight and Galloways as well.”

Galloway said that his employees are the key to the success of The Gaslight. Another key to that success is always being ahead of the curve.

“The worst thing you can do in this industry is remain stagnant,” Galloway stated. “I think it’s important to always reinvent yourself, redefine yourself. That can be as simple as a new menu, but even doing new things with design or bringing in new things. I can assure you we will always be doing that. When I see that certain areas are lagging, we’ll make the change. We’ve got some ideas in our arsenal that we’ll unveil in the future.”

Already, Gaslight has showcased incredible acts, like Hairball and Bubba Sparxx. They have truly become something for everybody, of all ages, which is all Galloway ever wanted to do.

“We want to have something for everyone,” he said. “We don’t want to be defined by a certain demographic. We want to be every demographic. We want to be something for everybody.”

Twenty-something-year-old Matt Galloway stood before a collection of his peers, his professors, and various bank clientele. He was to pitch his business plan and, contrary to the advice from his professors, his plan was about a bar. One hour later, Galloway finished his presentation. Sweat dripped from forehead but he was relieved. The worst part was over. Now, he waited with baited breath. The room was silent. Then, he heard clapping. It started in the back and worked its way forward until every person in the room was applauding his presentation. Galloway looked at his professor, who winked at him as if to say “You were right, kid.” As people began exiting the room, the president of the bank approached Matt.

“If you ever decide to make this a reality, I want to invest. Not with the bank’s money; with my money.”

It was the greatest compliment Galloway had ever or would ever receive. That was the moment he decided what he wanted to do with his life. It was the moment he knew which direction his career path would lead. He knew that he would need a lot of luck, a lot of hard work and a lot of passion. He had all of that. Now, he just needed a plan.

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