Business Profile: The Utopia Play Café

A happy place where parents and children find “me time”

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Young parents (or grandparents, for that matter) often find themselves challenged when it comes to securing a wee bit of “me time” with the little ones always underfoot. Enter Jocelyn Cunningham, a savvy mother of two, who totally understands how precious a few minutes of uninterrupted restorative non-familial focus can be.
Responding to that universal parental need for periodic peace, this empathizing entrepreneur has established a welcoming away-from-home “happy place” where Mom and/or Dad can comfortably enjoy a bite to eat, sip fresh coffee, fire up the laptop or simply relax. Meanwhile, the kiddos contentedly, and separately, carouse in an adjoining safe and age-appropriate environment conducive to nurturing, learning, socializing and, most importantly, just having lots of fun. How refreshing! To the many partaking ‘09 parents and their delighted offspring, this unique and carefree refuge truly has become their Utopia – or, more precisely, their Utopia Play Café!

While only in operation since late 2014, the Utopia Play Café has a connection that goes back several years to Ohio, where Jocelyn and her professional soccer-playing husband, Jeff, then resided. After the arrival of their first baby, the couple quickly discovered the unending demands of parenthood. A friend of hers had recently opened a business that catered to parents and kids by providing age-segregated space and activities in return for a nominal hourly fee. After one visit, the new mom quickly grasped how beneficial this establishment was in its provision of a safe and supervised “playground” for kids while also giving parents a place to, in Jocelyn’s words, “do their thing as well.” When Jeff’s career brought the family to San Antonio in 2012, an excited Jocelyn carried the concept with her, and a year and a half later her personalized adaptation was born.

bp2Today, located conveniently near 78209’s southern boundary off North New Braunfels in a parking-friendly revitalized strip center, the Utopia Play Café has become “the place” for meeting and greeting and, in the case of the youngsters, playing. During operating hours, visitors encounter men and women in the cozy grown-up section reading, working, Net surfing or, as Jocelyn offers, “swapping war stories about raising children.” In a separate spacious and comfy room overflowing with toys, tables and engaged tots, trained supervisors instruct, comfort, assist and ensure that everyone is safe and, above all, happy. Large glass windows allow parents visual access to the kids’ area. They are also welcome to enter as well, but most choose to take advantage of the supervision and enjoy their free time. And, as Jocelyn admits, “That’s the whole idea.” One look at the smiling faces on everyone – young and old – and it’s clear the Utopia Play Café is a success.
While the youngsters’ activity schedule continues to evolve with additional daily reading times, art instruction and even special guest presentations, Jocelyn has also opened the café for various neighborhood get-togethers and parties. She loves to see the space utilized and is constantly encouraging her expanding clientele to “think Utopia” when they have other events. Recently, a local artist had a showing on the premises. Another group sponsored a clothes swap aimed at satisfying the needs of rapidly growing children. But the allure of the Utopia Play Café remains its primary function as a much-needed provider of parental respite.

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The Utopia Play Café is open year-round and accepts children from infancy to 8 years of age. All staffers are trained and certified at administering CPR and first aid, and all have child care experience. There are certain times when children may be “dropped off,” but in most cases parents are required to remain on the premises.
And what about the café? While it isn’t a full-fledged eatery per se, to enhance patrons’ experience, Jocelyn and crew offer a tempting selection of beverages, including fresh-brewed teas and coffees as well as equally fresh juices. Savory snacks include yogurt, veggies, fruits and salads. Delightful and tasty finger sandwiches round out the menu. And there’s plenty of seating and tables spread throughout, including the front patio, which accommodates guests during the warmer seasons. Free Internet access is also provided.
When asked why parents and their children should use the Utopia Play Café, Jocelyn responds, “It’s a great place for so many reasons. Mom and Dad get a breather. The children play with others their own age in a safe, supervised setting, and it seems to be bringing folks with shared interests together as parents and kids interact, meet and become friends. It’s like their individual families become a part of a bigger neighborhood family, and that’s very cool.”

The Utopia Play Café is located at the intersection of North New Braunfels and Eleanor Streets (565 Eleanor, 78209). It is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. On weekends and evenings, opening times vary. For additional information, including hourly fees, directions, café menus and upcoming activities, visit www.utopiaplaycafe.com.

By Ernie Altgelt

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