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Calling all Entrepreneurs: Families Hunger for More

Mother-centric reflections on rivertown life, and how this family-friendly town could get friendlier.

First came the new , then the reopening of . Now on Cortlandt comes . Not to mention the myriad pizza joints already nearby: , , . As the per capita rate of slices around here rises, I have to wonder if some entrepreneur will dare take a chance on some family-friendly food that isn’t dough, cheese and red sauce.

Nothing beats pizza for budget cuisine, both on the business owner’s side and the consumer's. What is super-cheap to make (so much so that I recall several NYC bars used to give them out for free) also gets sold for a steal. Unless you start adding extra toppings, a family can often down a large pie and a bunch of promotional throw-ins for under $20. At Hollywood right now, for instance, you can leave with a large cheese pie, baked ziti, garlic knots, and a 2-liter bottle of soda for $19.95.

But, as a mom of young kids, whose only friends around here are moms with young kids (we can’t help but glom onto each other), I keep hearing one refrain: Can someone please open a restaurant that suits us? ’s looks promising with its “small bites” idea though it's leaning toward the late-night crowd. There’s , , and , all following the spirit of "family-friendly" but from an old-school model.

We yearn for more. We want numerous menu options for adults and kids (healthy and affordable being the main criteria) in a casual kid-friendly sort of setting that is more than just bright lights, bare walls, and red-and-white-checked tablecloths. We want high chairs, and low chairs, couches and play areas. Coffee and milk shakes. Good music and crayons.

I’m thinking of a place like Wobble Café in Ossining, which achieves a nice balance of being a great place to bring the kids while not pandering exclusively to families. Young patrons' art gets displayed on the walls and there’s a couchy play area in the back for bored kids to go to while the elders keep eating, but the menu is good for all ages. On the day we went, we were actually the only married-with-kids clan there.

As a former entrepreneur myself, the itch occasionally rises in me to embark on some such venture again. I see economic downturn and think “opportunity." A time when rents are cheap and help abundant. I still am kicking myself for missing out the under-$700/month rent that was available on Pocantico before Guard Hill Realty snapped it up. While a realty office is great for people who are moving here, it doesn’t do much for the residents.

This time, my big "idea" certainly wouldn’t be a bar but a place where the kids could come to work with me, where other moms with kids would feel welcome. I fantasize about the relative simplicity of retail (a kid’s consignment shop? But Affordables in Dobbs Ferry does that so well), or what about – stretching here – a falafel shop?

I often think that the best business models are the simplest: do one thing, very well. I love Maoz in the city, with its complimentary buffet of extensive fixin's like roasted broccoli, beets, carrots, sauces and more. Alas, I checked the franchise page on their website and you need to be a millionaire to embark on this venture. (A chicken and egg conundrum to be sure: the problem of how to be a millionaire in order to become a millionaire.)

So I put the call out to some other would-be business owner. Make a family-friendly place that’s unique, fun and affordable. Please. This needn't necessarily include food, though that would help since we moms-with-tikes are an insatiable bunch. I promise if you build it, we will come

Kristin Awsumb Liu March 28, 2011 at 05:24 PM
Well said! I dream of a coffee shop designed for parents with space for my 2 young kids to play quietly while I sit with friends and actually get to enjoy a cup of coffee instead of feeling the death stares of all the folks "working" on their laptops. I have heard of such a promised land, but don't know of any in the area . . .
Krista Madsen March 28, 2011 at 06:45 PM
So true, Kristin. Anything remotely promising around here has quarters too cramped! Blame it on the expensive real estate I guess. And the laptopper-squatters aren't exactly the best spenders!
davideac March 28, 2011 at 07:03 PM
Our community actually had a place like this: It was called Sunflower Cafe, and it was located at the west end of Beekman. It closed down a year or two after opening. Very nice while it lasted.
davideac March 28, 2011 at 07:05 PM
Krista, if you open a Wobble Cafe in Sleepy Hollow, my kids and I will be your first customers.
Krista Madsen March 28, 2011 at 07:47 PM
Was so excited about the Sunflower Cafe which was here, around the corner from our house, when we put an offer on the place, and gone by the time we moved in. I know the very thing I want is hard to keep afloat...as is most everything these days.
Jody Hunter March 31, 2011 at 06:37 PM
I have been milling this idea around in my head for about 3 1/2 years (my daughter is 3 1/2!). I even started drafting a business plan with a friend of mine. Long story short, my life got a little complicated for a while, and my friend moved away for her husband's job. Is anyone out there interested in helping me start the process up again? I have loads of restaurant and (healthy, local, seasonal) food experience from my pre-motherhood days. Not to mention I, too, have been longing for this place to go to for all the same reasons as everyone here.
tom April 15, 2011 at 07:22 PM
Good luck! Costs of goods are ridiculous, as is rent. Also, it doesn't help when all you moms let your kids run around the store like it's your living room, bothering other customers who want a peaceful meal-- then you get up after an hour-and-a-half and leave a huge mess and no tip! Put your money where your mouths are and take a risk-- open something up and see how hard the food industry really is.
Krista Madsen April 15, 2011 at 07:50 PM
Hey Tom, well I for one leave big tips and no mess when I leave a place. I am very conscious of this because I have indeed been on the other side and know how hard this business is. I've been a business owner, in fact, it was a bar by night and a cafe (that served food) by day, so believe me, I understand the struggle. Rather than disparage the moms struggling to raise the kids around here and the disruptions their kids make, how about some sympathy back on our behalf. I wish you all the luck in the world Jody!
tom April 15, 2011 at 10:45 PM
Well, Krista, you're definitely the exception. I'd have more empathy-- being a father myself-- if 90% of parents didn't treat the wait staff as babysitters. But it seems to be a general crisis in parenting not just isolated to Tarrytown. Overall manners are lacking in overpermissive parents. God forbid they should "hurt their children's feelings" by reprimanding them in public. If i had a dime every time I heard a parent say to their children (after having to walk over and kindly tell them they need to control their kids): "That man told you to sit down in your seat," I'd be rich right now. Heavens-to- Betsy that the parent should take ownership instead of deflecting and making the staff the bad guy. I hear too many threats by parents but no consequences. In my day, after one warning, my folks would march us right outta the restaurant-- and it didn't happen often; we got the hint real fast. Good luck, 90-percenters!
glen April 16, 2011 at 04:21 AM
Have to side with Tom here. Most parents have no clue how to be a parent when it comes to dining out. They let the kids dictate the situation. I have spent many years in the "hospitality" industryand many more as a diner and a parent so I feel I can offer an honest opinion. Many of todays parents have no clue when it comes to dining out with small children. They are more concerned with appeasing their kids than teaching them. They have little if any considerstion for those around them that might want to enjoy a quiet night out. I can't remember the last ime I saw a parent take a misbehaving child out of the restauarant. And are shocked if anyone is upset or annoyed at their childs behavior. I have seen too many managers or servers get torn a new one for asking parents to control their kids. Other patrons deserve some consideration, This might be the one night a week they can go out for the evening and don't need some lazy parents to ruin it for them. It's not the kids fault. They only know what their parents teach them. As the old saying goes - IT STARTS AT HOME. If you don't know how to control your kids or teach them proper behavior, then do yourself and the other restaurant patrons and employees a favor and get a babysitter. And I say this as a father of 4 kids. They were expected to behave in public and at home while growing up. All of them are successful and happy. Discipline and leadership are as important as hugs and kisses. Pretty simple really.
glen April 16, 2011 at 04:32 AM
Krista - thankyou for being the parent that you are. Wish their were more parents that thought the way you do. Your children are lucky to have a Mom that instills manners and proper behavior. Unfortunatelly, you are the exception. Seems like most of todays parents chose to take the easy way out. They don't realize that their laziness is really hurting the kids in the long run.
Thomas N April 16, 2011 at 11:14 AM
There used to be a coffee shop in Peekskill with a separate play area for toddlers. It worked because the kids area was in a separate room from the serving area, although there were still tables for the parents to sit. This way they attracted regular patrons and parents. I would also fully support this idea for Sleepy Hollow. It is not hard to make healthy children's food. Would love to see it!
Krista Madsen April 16, 2011 at 01:41 PM
In response to Glen and Tom, your comments are well-taken but make me anxious, the same way getting on an airplane with kids makes me anxious. I do take my kids out of a restaurant when they are misbehaving (unfortunately can't do the same with planes.) I do discipline, and am not of the "kids rule" camp, which turns me off too. But sometimes you just find yourself a little trapped with an unruly kid, the discipline isn't fool proof, you're self-conscious as a parent and know whatever approach you take that you will be judged by others all too quick to judge, and simply hope for some sympathy and patience while you get your ducks back in a row. I'm curious on getting some woman's take on this as I only hear a few men here complaining. It is very hard to dine out with kids until they reach a certain age when discipline begins to actually work and be understood, until that it can be so nerve-wracking. Many parents opt to avoid going out altogether; seems having a few places where parents need not be so nervous the whole time would help. And yes, the kids should be well-behaved there too but freer to be kids.
Krista Madsen April 16, 2011 at 01:43 PM
Anyway, seems like another parents/kids-restaurant-etiquette topic is emerging here that I need to write a column about! Stay tuned!
Krista Madsen April 16, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Key words here being "used to be" a place in Peekskill. Alas it's so hard to keep these places afloat. I hope someone, if not ME, takes a chance on this here someday. Sounds great!

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