Cara Watson has been promoted to manager at AOK Craft Beer + Arcade, which will bring live music, trivia and other events to downtown Kitchener. Watson is a long-time fixture in the area and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Downtown Kitchener BIA.
In June, Watson announced on social media that she was leaving her role as Director of Operations at the Apollo Cinema to take the summer off—but that vacation was put on hold when AOK owners Steve Jenereaux and Dani Stock offered her the opportunity to create her own role. In her new role as manager at AOK, Watson is programming events to bring more patrons to the venue.
“I’m really bad at taking time off, it turns out. As soon as I had any sort of momentum and excitement again, I was ready to go,” Watson said.
Watson worked part-time at AOK while the Apollo Cinema was closed due to public health measures. During that time, AOK opened their patio in Hall’s Lane.
“They had just opened the patio and, at the time, the Apollo was still shuttered. We weren’t allowed to play movies. So I joined the AOK team and then a week later the Apollo was allowed to reopen. It was fun, so I just stayed on working one day a week at AOK,” Watson said.
Watson continued working part-time at AOK after leaving the Apollo Cinema in June. She said she planned to work at the bar, serve drinks and chips, and relax. In July, Jenereaux and Stock approached Watson with an opportunity to create her own job description for what she wanted to do at AOK.
“I worked with Steven and Stock while running the Apollo. We did a couple of things together and they’re incredibly passionate and community oriented people. They were both really excited about having me here and let me set my own pace—which was incredible,” Watson said.
Programming events at the arcade-themed bar presents new opportunities for Watson, who has been with Apollo Cinema since it opened and helped evolve its programming as its audience grew. Programming events at AOK is a new challenge that she is ready to take on.
“It’s only right now that AOK is finally figuring out who their customer base is because people are still discovering it. Programming events here is kind of throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. I’m incredibly spoiled that I have a lot of contacts in the KW community,” Watson said. “The feedback is really good and we’re getting new people in and we’re developing what AOK is going to be.”
Attracting more people to downtown businesses—especially people living outside the downtown core—is one of Watson’s goals. She said that summer concerts and festivals have brought more people downtown, and she hopes to see more of this year-round.
“Every Friday this summer downtown has been packed. They’re doing concerts and events in front of City Hall. People can get here—we just need help encouraging them to make the choice to get here,” Watson said.
Watson is also conscious of the change in how people want to connect when they’re out for an evening. She said people going out want to connect with friends and feel nostalgia at the same time, adding that this is something AOK is built to do.
“I’m incredibly lucky to have AOK because it hits both of these. Steve and Dani created AOK with building community through conversation in mind and then they filled it with a ton of nostalgia to keep people interested and wanting to come back. That’s what I’m keeping in mind when I’m programming,” she said.
Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Waterloo Region, Ontario. He's behind the TL;WR newsletter–Waterloo Region's weekly events newsletter. He's worked with some of Canada's most well known tech companies in roles including customer success, development, product management, PR, social media and marketing. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, Grand Magazine and more.