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Bumble, A 'Play Cafe' of a Different Stripe

New downtown Los Altos cafe aims to be a destination for foodie families

The kitchen was humming. The adult deck was buzzing. The playroom was a hive of activity.

Which, of course, is what you want at lunchtime in a business that goes by the name of "Bumble." As in "bee."

After months of remodeling the old Cottage Green bungalow at 145 First St., Los Altos' newest business for families did a test run this week before it opens to the public Saturday morning.

Bumble describes itself as a "play cafe." If you have to ask, perhaps you don't have children.

Play cafes are places where parents can bring their kids, hang out, usually have a good cup of coffee, and not worry about others looking in askance while a child bangs a toy on the floor or makes loud "vroom-vroom" sounds.

Various forms of the concept exist around the country, all revolving around the idea that kids need to be kids, and parents need a hangout—besides their home—where that is OK. Even Chuck E. Cheese might be considered forerunner to today's play cafe. 

This, however, is a play cafe for Los Altos.

Walk up the Bumble's porch, past the teakwood sandbox, and through the bright yellow door. It's decorated in muted grays, white, blacks and yellow. The stained planks in the entry faintly echo bumblebee stripes, but there's nothing cutesy here.

It's comfortable, with clean lines and decor. There no cartoon characters or primary color schemes except, perhaps, in the playroom. It's like being in a home.

"The decor is geared toward the parents because kids will have fun no matter what," said owner Mary Heffernan said. She has three children, ages 3, 2 and six months.

Not your usual kids menu

The full-service cafe offers organic and locally sourced food, as well as beer, wine, tea and coffee. Bumble serves breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, along with light family dinners.

"We are hoping to bring together local organic ingredients to create food that adults and children can both enjoy and feel good about eating," said Heffernan.

While the children's menu, "Bee Bites," has PB&J and mini hotdogs, it is not your usual children's menu—not with grilled salmon, "kale chips" or edamame and miso tofu. "We want to introduce kids to new foods and will hope they love the healthy items we offer," Heffernan said.

Adults can get sandwiches, salads, including quinoa, plus drinks such as Four Barrel coffee, Clos LaChance Pinot Noir, Alaskan Amber beer, and soda or soju infusions. There is afternoon tea service.

There's a low reception desk and a sitting area that looks out onto a deck that says "Adults Porch." Further back there's a large communal table, capable of seating around 20 people, and a den area where parents can sit with their kids. There is a playroom, with supervised staff. 

"You can eat with your kids, and then, when they're done—which is like, six minutes—they can go to the playroom," Heffernan said. And parents, ostensibly, can go back to enjoying their meal and conversation.

Educational playroom + good food

Director Emily Richard designed a mix of offerings, from memberships that allow for discounted half-hourly fees to use the supervised playroom, parties and special events such as family-style dinners, "Daddy's Day Sundays," "Mom's Night Out" and "Drop and Shop." once we get our bearings. We want dads to be able to come after work with their families, too," said Richard, who holds a master's in education from the University of Virginia, has taught middle school math and worked on nutrition and disease prevention in the nonprofit sector.

Heffernan, who moved to Los Altos from Menlo Park, has two other businesses there: a tutoring business, and Brilliant Babies, a drop-in play space with an academic bent, at the same address.

A big attention-getter is a 25-foot-long fish tank that runs the length of the den and separates it from children's play room. Heffernan says there will be more than 100 fish and fish "bios" so that children can identify and read about them. The play room has its own outside deck. 

It has a 20-foot interactive screen that comes down and simulates the night forest. If you reach for a critter, they hop or flit away, something that teaches how different animals react, and is "real for all ages," unlike a video game, Heffernan said. 

Part of the inspiration for Bumble came from her love of afternoon tea, Heffernan said. "It's so nice to relax and chat with other moms over breakfast or lunch, or at the end of the day over good food and excellent coffee or tea," she said.

"It's up to us to bring that kind of quality and atmosphere to Los Altos, and there is no reason you shouldn't be able to enjoy that time with your children in tow."

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