Heather Mariano of Play Grounds Cafe
As a mom, Heather Mariano, wanted a place to take her son that she could also enjoy. She loves coffee shops and the way they let you connect with friends but knew as her son grew older it would be hard to take him to some of her favorite spots. So, she sought to marry a kid-friendly environment with her love of coffee, and Play Grounds Cafe was born. Play Grounds Cafe is a family-focused coffee shop located on Madison Ave. in Lakewood that offers plenty of playspace (and toys) for children, along with an incredible selection of coffees and teas. Even if you don’t have kids of your own, Play Grounds Cafe should be on your radar! Learn more about Heather and Play Grounds Cafe.
Haley Mills: How did the idea behind Play Grounds come about?
Heather Mariano: I love coffee shops and the environment they provide - to come and just enjoy life and rest or connect with others. When I became a mom six years ago, it was easy to continue enjoying the little coffee shops I loved without disruption as my son slept. As he got older and became mobile, he didn't want to sit on my lap and there was no place for him to go or play. I still wanted that connection with friends - talking over coffee or tea but it became too difficult.
After having my daughter, I really missed the feeling of unwinding over a cup of coffee with friends. There were some places around town that were okay, but the time was limited as to how long you could stay or we’d pop into a coffee shop for about 10 minutes before it got really chaotic and we’d have to go. It was something that friends and I had talked about, “wouldn’t it be great if this existed?” By the time my daughter was one and my son was around three, I really started to do research on what Play Grounds could be like. I entered a competition with Start Up Lakewood to present my idea and start formalizing a business plan - what our target market would be, and how we could make this work. I was one of the finalists in the competition, and that really kept me going as far as thinking, “I have to actually do this thing!” It took probably about a year and a half total of research and planning and then it all started to come together. We had to find the space and build it out, find a roaster to work with (we partnered with Phoenix Coffee), and bakers to provide our goodies. We opened in October of 2017 and we’ve been serving anyone that wants to come in since then! (If you’re looking for a fun, bright, and cheerful place to work - whether or not you have kids - Play Grounds is an awesome spot.)
HM: My next question was, what made you actually act on the idea? Was it the Start Up Lakewood competition?
Heather: It was a good catalyst. It held me accountable to actually doing what I said I wanted to do. It made me realize that people were interested in my concept which led me to start building an email list and a presence on social media. Once those things became real, that presence online, I really had to follow through.
HM: What's your favorite part about running Play Grounds?
Heather: I have a really great staff, they are super fun. The connections we’ve made with our regulars - people who love what we are here for, and love that they can come in for really great coffee with the kid-friendly aspects has been the best. It’s not just, ‘here’s a Keurig and your kids are going to run wild and it's very chaotic,’ it's more so that we’re a coffee shop with great coffee and kids are welcome here. It’s a fun, happy place to be!
HM: What's the hardest part of running a small business?
Heather: Probably that a lot of things fall on my plate - as far as day-to-day operations and thinking about how we can continue to grow. A lot of people know we recently ran into some issues with our building and had to close for several days, and I had to handle all of that. Thankfully I have a very supportive husband who helps out as well even though he's not here on a day-to-day basis.
HM: How do you choose what to serve?
Heather: Before we even had a space, I started meeting with roasters. I fell in love with Phoenix, based on how they are working with farmers directly. Their coffee director is involved in the process from growth to full completion of roasting the beans. I love their product, we think its the best, haha! As far as bakers. I started following Shawnda of Southern Sweets Cleveland and saw what she was doing as far as delivering to other cafes and felt like it would be a great fit. Alla from The Macaron Tea Room actually contacted me and brought samples and I love what they are doing. We get a lot of rave reviews about both.
HM: You also have kid-friendly snacks, right?
Heather: We do. We have a lot of the essentials: goldfish, pretzels, applesauce, fresh fruit. We also started carrying granola made by local mother and owner of City Hippie Granola, which offers vegan options and is another healthy alternative. We also do our best to cater to food allergy needs, such as peanut allergies, with our Sun Butter and Jelly sandwich. We try to offer a variety for all children to enjoy.
HM: What is your favorite thing to do in Cleveland with kids?
Heather: Here, number one. My kids request it pretty frequently. We actually really like to do not necessarily obvious kid things. We love to go to the Cleveland Art Museum and play in the studio and interact with the artwork. I took my son to Infinite Kusama this summer and he loved it. The whole area of Wade Oval is wonderful. We’ll do the Zoo and the Children's Museum and that sort of stuff as well.
HM: What is your favorite restaurant to go to with your family?
Heather: Harlow’s. We love (the owners) Jon and Emily, they are just wonderful people. Everybody loves the food, we barely leave anything behind. We love sitting on the patio in the summer & being inside in the winter time. It’s a great local hangout.
HM: What is your favorite place to take visitors to Cleveland?
Heather: The Lake! For us, we have a lot of east coast family (my husband’s from Boston and my mom is from the D.C. area), so a lot of our family wasn't able to grasp what a Great Lake looks like and how you can’t see across to the other side. We enjoy showing them the beach at Edgewater and going down to the Flats and highlighting all of the views you can get of the lake. We just hosted Thanksgiving with my giant family and we did a little walking tour of Euclid Avenue, seeing Playhouse Square and The Arcade. It was really fun!
HM: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Play Grounds?
Heather: We are super accessible. We’re super close to Rocky River, Westpark, and I-90. We have a parking lot in the back - so it’s very rare you wouldn’t be able to get here easily!