‘I want this space available for parents who need to get out of the house,’ says Jennifer Collins.
A brief moment to relax, while the steam from a hot cup of coffee warms the face, is a rarity for parents of young children.
“When I was doing a business plan for this place, I needed this place,” said Jennifer Collins, owner and operator of Lee York Kids, a new café at 207-A Kenmount Road with a built-in play structure.
“I always wanted somewhere where I could go out, without spending 50 bucks and just let my kid play… and then still have a place where I could sit down and maybe get some work done,” Collins said.
Collins, a single mother of a nine-year-old named Liam, was working with the government for nine years when she was suddenly laid-off.
“I pretty much cried and ate cupcakes for a month,” Collins said. “Eventually, I realized I can either sink in this hole or I can pull up my big girl pants and do something about it.”
Every morning after dropping her son off to school, Collins would go to a coffee shop and work on her business plan. She delved into statistics, projection sheets, sales and the legalities of having a play structure – subjects Collins typically found nap-inducing.
“He’s so logical . . . I’m so dreamy and out there, and he’s like, ‘This is reality, Mom.'”
But being at the helm of her own project made those dry topics easier to navigate.
“It was nice to have full creativity,” Collins said. “I took it, I guess, like making a record.”
Her son Liam, who she calls her assistant director, helped her design the play structure.
“Because it was [for] kids, I had an immediate focus group,” Collins said. “I was looking at drafts of play areas and [would ask] ‘Is this one nice?'”
“He’s so logical . l . I’m so dreamy and out there and he’s like, ‘This is reality, Mom.'”
Liam also provided moral support when all the work became too overwhelming.
“He was great to remind me, to kick me out of my funk,” Collins said. “He’s so intuitive. [He’d say], ‘Hey, we’ve been through worse.’
“He’s well beyond his years in maturity.”
The space itself is small, which was perfect for Collins. It provides an opportunity for parents to relax without worrying if their kids will run off somewhere.
And compared to the average indoor parent and child destination, the fees are small too. It’s $8 for one child, $15 for two and $20 for three. Kids and parents can stay as long as they want.
Healthy alternatives to snacks are available for purchase as well. Snacks, like the Lee York Twix bar, are made on site from almond meal, dates and vegan chocolate.
Health and wellness is something Collins began taking seriously when she was transferred to Nova Scotia for her previous job. Having no doctor, family or sick leave left, she began researching diet, hoping to prevent sickness before it occurred.
“I was in this new position, I really needed to give it 120 per cent,” Collins said. “Obviously there was times where [Liam] did get sick . . . but those were the things that triggered the whole evolution of wanting to be healthy and happy.”
Collins says the experience so far has been amazing. Kids quickly become friends, often starting conversations among the parents. Parents end up sharing tips on everything from the trials and tribulations of potty training, complaining about lack of sleep or just plain old small talk.
“Conversations are what really drive a lot of this, you know?” Collins said.
“It’s so much more than just a café with a kids play area – it’s a place to build a community.”