As a parent, sometimes you might just need to take a coffee break and relax. Looking for a place that’s designed as a special hideaway for both littles and bigs? Urban Fort Cafe might just be the perfect place for you. Located in McKinley Heights, this cafe brings you the downtime you need and the play time for your child. Megan King-Popp, with co-owner Monica Croke, opened the comfortable play café December of 2017 in the hopes of bringing an indoor safe haven for all city families.
Why did you decide to open Urban Fort Cafe?
I want running a daycare out of my house in the anticipation of having my own child and thought it was going to solve all my problems, by staying home with the kid and making my own income. Instead, I hated every minute of it, I felt isolated and I had a little bit of postpartum depression. Couple of years later with four kids in my own daycare including my own child, I was trying to find a place for us to go but it was raining and there was no place for us to go. So I looked up indoor play stations in Chicago and found this concept of play café and about a week after we went on vacation and found one in Seattle and that was the best three hours of our vacation. I was like, “This is it, this is what I’m doing.” A couple months later I started the Facebook page and it blew up, we had 700 likes in five days so there was clearly a market for it and that’s what made me want to keep going.
How did you and Monica get started together?
When I made the Facebook page back in August she had reached out to me because she had a similar experience as I had when she was on vacation and went to a play cafe and loved it and wanted to do it and that was probably four or five years ago. But she had a brand new baby so it wasn’t something she could do at the time. So at first she just offered to be more of a sounding board and we meet frequently and collaborated and then I realized that the workload was going to be more than I anticipated so I knew I needed a partner and it just seemed logical. We did not know each other ahead of time but it’s been really great.
What was the process of opening?
We kind of jumped into it backward. Because the concept is new and St Louis doesn’t have one like this, no one never understood what I wanted to do and especially if you don’t have kids you don’t understand. Usually finding money is the first step but for us, it was providing liability and it was a catch 22. They were like you need to find a space but we can’t find a space without money. It was just a run around so my husband and I just bit the bullet and put the money into this place.
Why did you choose this space?
I am a city girl and wanted a city space, the county has kid stuff already so I wanted to build a community space for the city to be involved in. Families are finally realizing that you can have a life here with your kids, they use to move out into the county but now more families are staying. I wanted this place to help stabilize that. This specific place with the windows, on a corner being this close to all the highways, was just perfect.
What about prices?
We try to keep our price point on the low to appeal to all income levels. Since we are in the city that is very important. We are still getting the word out which is crazy how many people haven’t heard of us. All my business advisers said I should be charging $10-$11 and I was like I personally cannot afford that so I don’t want to push anyone away from my income level out, it’s supposed to be a community affair. We want it accessible to as many people as possible. We have an $8 admission and $6.50 for each additional child, adults, and infants are free. We do have it that if you pay 10 passes you get $15 off and we have a seasonal membership which is for three months and unlimited play and 15 drip coffees with that. There is no time limit. We are working hard to not change that structure.
Can you tell us a little about the cafe portion?
We started out just having coffee and pastries. We were gonna do that for a while but once we got our feet under us we wanted to do more. We started our full menu in February, it became apparent that people wanted that. Monica and I are both foodies, I worked in the food industry for 15 years as a server but never hands-on with the food unless I was at home. We just kind of dove into it and it’s been really fun. You can see here that we have like 800 chalkboards because the menu keeps expanding as we find more things people want. It’s not something we anticipated on doing but it’s been really fun.
What are some challenges you have had to face?
Convincing people of the concept. Not the parents, but the people with the money. Since opening the hardest thing has been the hiring, which people say it always is but we did not know that was going to be the case. You always want to appeal to everyone but it’s not going to appeal to everyone, so finding the balance.
What makes this place so special?
There are family friendly restaurants out there but that just usually means a few coloring books and a kids menu. This is just taking that concept a step farther. We like to call ourselves a downscale “Magic House.” We wanted to provide a space where you can sit down and still watch your child. It is supposed to be a safe haven for people with those curious toddlers. The biggest promotion is to offer that space for parents to take a break. It sounds kind of PC but we talk about lazy parenting, it’s not like you are a lazy parent but you do need a minute, you need a space of time to refresh. It is about taking care of yourself so you can be the best for your child.
Next time you need to take a break, bring your child in for some play time while you kick back. No matter the weather this is the spot for you and your child to both get the time you need.
Photo Credit: Urban Fort Play Cafe
To visit Urban Fort Play Cafe:
Located at: 1854 Russell Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63104