Updated: Feb 4, 2019
Well we did it. We ran a successful Pop Up Play Cafe for 12 weeks.
It meant everything to us. We quickly realised that our hunch and market research was right. There is a gap in the market for a Play Cafe in the centre of York.
You guys came in your droves and we LOVED you for it. On average each week we welcomed 17 Little Babes (Under 2) and 20 Big Babes (over 2’s) alongside their adults. You spent an average of 77 minutes with us. Most of you had heard about us through social media, especially our Facebook page. Further down the line many of you came on the recommendation of friends. (Insert air punch!) You loved the name and Stumpy, and many of you turned up in your finest dinosaur attire just to prove it!
We mainly saw you gorgeous Mummas, who had come along just to see what the heck we were all about. Better still you came out on playdates with other Mummas or met up for occasions and little celebrations.
We were very happy to see so many Dad’s and their friends too! This felt particularly super as we know how hard it can be for Dads to navigate the world of Mum heavy groups and activities. And last but certainly not least we saw plenty of Grandparents, who were either enjoying some family time or taking care of the Grandchildren for the day. The very best bit for us is that we very quickly began to get a core of regulars and it was a pleasure getting to know you and your children over the course of three months.
“York so desperately needs this! We are so happy that someone is finally doing it!”
The fact that so many of you came back repeatedly is one of the highest compliments. If you were good enough to fill out a survey for us the one thing that shone through was how friendly, relaxed and fun you found the staff and the atmosphere. So many of you said to us each and every week “York so desperately needs this! We are so happy that someone is finally doing it!” - We felt the love people! You and your wonderful children inspired us each week and we felt very supported by each and every one of you.
As an Early Years teacher and mother who is passionate about good quality play, Amy spent months in advance hunting down and buying loads of toys and activities. Our aim was to only supply your children with the best in high quality wooden toys and open ended imaginative play, annnnnnnnd if we may say ourselves, we feel we succeeded.
You complimented us on them and fed back very positively about the selection and quality in our surveys. More importantly your children had a blast with them. An absolute hit was the campsite (shown on the right here), fully equipped with a stuffed fire and all the cooking utensils you need to make a full playdough meal! Also popular was the brio train set. (A classic but a good'un!)
The aim was to have enough of these beautiful toys to entertain children of all ages, so we broke them down into sections. We used various treasure baskets from our Babes In Arms group for the "under ones area" under the piano.
We had toddler baskets with sensory balls, push along toys, and shape sorters. We also had a wide choice of small world toys, with wooden dinosaurs and animals being very active in their weekly adventures.
The window sills were adorned with treasures such as a wooden rainbow, games, marble runs and puzzles for ages 3 and up.
From watching the children at play we decided to invest in a large plastic tuff tray in which we could change the activity in each week. If Amy had had her way it would have been full of messy play - but when in a rented space with white walls…. So instead we opted for activities such as hammering golf tees into pumpkins at Halloween and making sparklers for Bonfire night. Yup, at points it was wonderful chaos!
We learnt a lot from observing your kids at play and the in cafe survey. Mainly that we got it right and just need to do more of it. Many of you told us that we need more space, and we agree wholeheartedly. We will use Amy’s experience and knowledge in play to make it bigger and better in the full fat version. We need at least 2500 square foot of space, proper age zones, so children can focus more on their playing and smaller children are safe from bigger ones! We want to introduce climbing opportunities for all ages and a better and larger area just for physical play; the balls and bounce on dinos were very popular.
...a play cafe which is a full playscape in the theme of a dinosaur jungle or forest...
Our full fat version dream is a play cafe which is a full playscape in the theme of a dinosaur jungle or forest, with each area seamlessly flowing in to the next as an immersive play experience. Of course there are also smaller details such as gluing the brio train set down in a permanent configuration with ‘the strong glue’ used to stick Mr and Mrs Twit to the ceiling so play isn’t constantly disturbed by train track smashes. All these things when put into place will make your childrens’ play experience with us more fulfilling.
Talking of filling (see what I did there) Let’s talk about the food!!
Zoe was the prowess behind the food. She poured her heart and soul into it. We wanted our menu to be as fun and family friendly as ever, with items that reflected DLFC such as our popular Stumpy biscuit. We had a good range of allergy free options because we know from experience how wide ranging allergies are these days. We always had vegan options and a whole range of one handed (OH!) eats for those boob/bottle feeding/spooning food into a small mouth mealtime moments.
Before we started we held a well supported menu tasting afternoon, in which for a small donation you could taste our foodie wares and tell us exactly what you thought. Well here’s what we learned; a lot of what you said you like in the menu tasting session didn’t actually sell in the cafe on a week to week basis. You said our signature dish ‘fossil fuel’ was great and would be very popular, it wasn’t. Instead you bought Stumpy biscuits and Cream Teas. You said you wanted something a bit more quirky such as One Handed (OH!) Eggs and Bacon, but in reality you just wanted a sandwich, although our quirky Spaghetti cake was a huge hit. You enjoyed our soup and scone options too.
Many of you fed back that you’d like jacket potatoes and pizza. We made them and no one bought them, but your kids loved the Bento plates. You also said you wanted a kids specific menu, which we created and you much prefered.
You love tea and coffee as much as we do. The essential drug of all parents’ lives! We couldn’t offer huge cups of either, as the cups in the space we had rented were so small. So we offered refills, which you took full advantage of! Our coffee was simple filtered Americano as we only had the equipment for this; we promise in our full fat version we will have an all singing all dancing coffee machine for fancier coffee options.
It was also interesting to us that many of you arrived not knowing that we were a full service cafe, so this is a message we need to make sure is getting across to you loud and clear, through social media content and reputation.
We loved running a busy kitchen. We loved the buzz and the interaction it gave us with you, our customers. It has taught us that you do want simple good quality, healthy family food, and that we need two versions of our menu, an adult one and a kids one. We also need a menu and a kitchen that is flexible and can cater to your different needs.
We could see early on that we need a bigger variety of seating. Not only do you need tables and chairs, but sofas and smaller ‘low down’ areas so you can sit with your children in play. This of course brings up questions about whether or not we should supply cover cups for hot drinks. There really is so much still to think about!
As part of our pop-up we wanted to trial one off events to see if they would be popular and work for our business as we predicted they would. So over half term we invited the Face of Science to run a workshop for older children alongside our cafe. It was a hit, with many of you joining us for a play and lunch afterwards.
We also ran a 'Prehistoric' afternoon tea event which sold out. This had a fantastic atmosphere and great feedback. It’s clear to us that you want these events. (And we loved feeding you loads of much deserved treats!) Part of our business model is to have a separate versatile events space which we can hire out to others and to run our own events from. We also want to be able to host awesome birthday parties for your kids too!
Across the run we lost money so we asked you via our survey your opinion on ways to help with this. The option that overwhelmingly came out on top was charging every adult £5 entry but for this £5 to then be redeemable against food and drink purchases. We also felt duty bound to keep our hot drinks at the same price as the Quaker Space - 95p a cup. This is easily £1 below the average price you'd pay for a cuppa in York. If the £5 charge and an increase in what we were charging for hot drinks had happened we would have broken even.
Finally we proved that we can work together in stressful situations. If we had issues we were able to talk about them and resolve them quickly, Our strengths compliment the others’ weaknesses. This sort of thing can really test a friendship and we're proud that for two people with zero experience of running a cafe we managed to do exactly that and get such a positive response from everyone including each other.
So, what next? Doing this pop up has given us valuable insights that we can now add to our business plan. The main obstacles in our way are:
- Business rates and rents in the city centre being extremely high
- 2500 sq ft premises being hard to come by
- Resolving how we raise the capital for the cafe
In the meantime we're continuing to run Babes In Arms, and we're soon to trial two other regular groups - one aimed at under 2s and one for Toddlers. We've also got a couple of lovely events lined up for the February half term, so please come and join us at some of these and come and say hi!
Roars & Sprinkles!
Amy & Zoe xx