Annette Lotharp

It’s been said that space is the final frontier for those looking to boldly go where no man has gone before.

In this case, it’s technically a woman (and her husband). And though Annette Lotharp has arguably gone where no one has gone before, it was a bit closer to home.

“My husband is a sci-fi fantasy crazy person.” Annette explained (with love). “He had this idea five years ago, while on work leave for surgery with six weeks of time on his hands. I started giving him my thoughts about the ways it would work. And long story short: We created the perfect business plan for how we could fuse sci-fi and gaming under one roof.”

And just like that, Outer Rim: The Experience was born. Located within Durfee Innovation Society, it’s a sci-fi/fantasy gaming lounge providing unique STEM education experiences in the former planetarium of what was once a middle school.

“Before becoming a business owner, I was a teacher for Detroit Public Schools and I ran Parkman, the largest public library branch in the city,” Annette continued. “So, a lot of what I did there I’m bringing to my business. The gaming is not the only thing: The main thing is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education, because many of the local children have limited access to it.”

“Our goal was to offer them the opportunity to learn STEM under the guise of gaming.”

Of course, like all great sci-fi movies, there had to be a plot twist.

“When the pandemic hit, Outer Rim hit a standstill,” Annette said. “I’m trying to open a gaming lounge that is literally just sitting there at that point.”

And then, while Annette and her son were focused on training for Outer Rim during the downtime, an unidentified flying object caught her attention.

“The restaurant presented itself,” she explained. “And we were interested because that was part of our business plan, to have this complete family-fun center — with a restaurant — all under one roof.”

Annette is of course referring to Toarmina’s Pizza, which is also located within DIS. 

“We bought the place and everything that was inside probably weeks before they reopened the country. So, now we had two spaces and no idea what we were going to do with them. Mind you, I was still working at the library. Yet I bought a restaurant during a pandemic — if that makes sense.”

Over a year later, with both Outer Rim and Toarmina’s fully operational, it makes total sense. The community has welcomed both with open arms and, whether it’s for one player or a whole family, Annette sees an opportunity to recreate the concept throughout Detroit.

“It would be nice if in ten years it’s not only DIS but maybe two or three Durfees in other neighborhoods like East or Southwest Detroit,” Annette said. “These community resource centers for residents with things like access to computers or fresh food or even bare basics like notary services. They can just walk in and take care of business.”

“I’ll keep bringing what I can to that table, because collectively we can provide for the community and its children with what they need to sustain themselves… The things they wouldn’t necessarily be able to get anywhere else.”

In other words… We all really do need somebody to lean on.