Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More from FUNWORLD... A Deeper Look at Miami's Cool-de-Sac Play Cafe

In July’s Quick Hits, I wrote about Cool-de-Sac Play Café, a new family entertainment center in Miami. What’s special about Cool-de-Sac is they understand parents want entertainment and education for their kids to be mixed in with a fun place to hang out themselves. Basically, they want to let kids run loose without getting bored watching from the sidelines. Here’s an extended look at this new “edu-tainment” center and all it offers.

What it is: Cool-de-Sac Play Café is an “edu-tainment” center of more than 8,000 square feet, fit for kids age 3 to 9, although activities exist for the toddler to 12-year-old set. Owner Jose Luis Bueno says one defining quality of Cool-de-Sac is staffers’ interactions with kids. “It’s rewarding when returning children see a team member they played with days ago, yell out their name, and run over for a hug,” Bueno says. “That’s a testament to our people.”

How It Happened: Attributing the idea to being a dad, a native of Venezuela who had just moved to Miami, Bueno realized the potential for an attraction when he visited a shopping center with his wife, who was having a difficult time finding activities to enjoy with her twin infants and toddler. “I remember her being completely desperate to find something [to do] and finding nothing,” he says.
Bueno explains that while Miami doesn’t lack activities, you can only take a toddler and two infants to the beach so much. So he went with his wife and friends on a play date to a shopping center and bookstore in South Miami. “I made a surprising discovery,” he recalls. “There were seven or eight moms sitting on the carpet having coffee while their kids were playing at the Thomas the Train table. I thought, ‘There has to be a business opportunity here.’” So after nearly four years of extensive research—including focus groups, hiring a firm to develop the “brand DNA,” working with industry consultants, and hiring an opening management team—Cool-de-Sac finally came to life. So far the reactions have been overwhelming, with the center gaining regular visitors who come up to three times a week.

What’s Unique: Its nutritionist-reviewed high-quality menu, staffed and supervised activity stations for kids, and consistent, creative themes Bueno says were inspired by attractions from Disney. Another plus: Cool-de-Sac staffers say with all the activities available, kids can keep busy for three to five hours!

What It Has: An arts and crafts area, a computer center with educational games, and “City Alley,” a black-light party room, where social interaction and physical activity are encouraged. Some of the other stations include a play unit, blocks, a play salon, and a toddler play area.
Adding to the atmosphere, parents can keep a close eye on kids while enjoying gourmet-style food like grilled mahi-mahi filet with fresh fruit salsa, goat cheese salad, and margherita pizza with fresh and homemade ingredients. See the center’s full menu here.
All-inclusive, hassle-free birthday parties are also available, and the staff has partnered with a childhood education professional to design curricula for morning parent/children classes.

Who’s Involved: A management team recruited from entertainment and restaurant companies. Amy Madsen, general manager at Cool-de-Sac, brings training experience from places like Namco’s Pac-Man Café, GameWorks, and Six Flags Great America in Illinois, where she worked for 11 years. “She brings a wealth of knowledge on what it takes to run an efficient operation and how to select the people who will bring our vision to life,” Bueno says.

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