Nfld. & Labrador

This single mom had to make a tough choice. A play café was the happy result

Jennifer Collins knew from her own parenting experience that there was a gap in services for young families in St. John's. So she created her own business.

Jennifer Collins knew from her own parenting experience that there was a gap in the marketplace

Jennifer Collins, the owner of Lee York Kids in St. John's. (Prajwala Dixit/CBC)

A clean, bright space filled with cackling laughter, children popping in and out of a massive play structure, relaxed parents sipping on coffee while peppy music fills the room.

This is the atmosphere that Lee York Kids, a play café on Kenmount Road in St. John's, offers to families looking for a break.

"I wanted to create a space where parents could relax, enjoy a good coffee, chat with each other, write some poetry, read a book, do some work while their kids had a safe, clean place to play," said owner Jennifer Collins.

As a single mother, getting to this point where she is running this small business was not an easy path.

We don't often take enough time to take care of ourselves.- Jennifer Collins

After losing a stable job, she had to make some tough decisions.

"With no job, there were two choices — the easy road or the hard road," she said.

"I chose the hard one," she said.

A market opportunity presented itself

Opened in 2018, Lee York has created a niche for itself. Collins, a parent to eight-year-old Liam Collins, saw a need for a space where both children and parents could unwind.

In addition to the fun play structure and a café space on the main floor, Lee York Kids has a spacious studio below. That element is a part of her business plan.

Lee York Kids offers a play structure where kids can have a ball while their parents relax nearby. (Prajwala Dixit/CBC)

"I opened this space in conjunction with the studio downstairs under the health and wellness feel because, as parents, we don't often get time to take the classes to exercise. We don't often take enough time to take care of ourselves," she said.

Collins identified a market opportunity from her own experiences as a parent.

"There were a couple of playgroups happening at public facilities but that was about it. But if you had a nap at 11 o' clock, you couldn't go," she said.

Her goal was to create "something where parents and kids could socialize, where parents enjoyed it as much as the kids."

She also knew she wanted something that will work for parents coping with unpredictable conditions at playgrounds.

"The weather dictates that we're inside for at least 10 months of the year," she said.

Yoga classes also offered

The studio space below is used to hold a variety of classes that include yoga for parents and kids, and pelvic floor restoration.

The café includes a kids menu that emphasizes healthy eats — and has intriguing drinks like "Batman soda" on offer. It's in line with Canada's Food Guide, with most of the food made on-site using plant-based ingredients and devoid of refined sugars.

Lee York Kids emphasizes healthier options at its canteen. No refined sugars are used for its products. (Prajwala Dixit/CBC)

"Everything that was available everywhere was soda and chips, and that doesn't make you feel good. So, I wanted everyone to have a good, healthy experience here," she said.

By incorporating simple choices like almond and cashew milk (with milk and cream offered), Lee York Kids caters to specific dietary needs like lactose-intolerance.

Collins recalled a lactose-intolerant child having their first ever milkshake outside the confines of home. "I cried hearing that," she said.

"I guess when you work hard for something and then you see these extra benefits like whether its parents chatting in the café together, or when a parent finds out that we are an egg-free facility and their child can have anything to eat, I guess in those moments I get emotional."

'I want them to feel better'

The core of her venture remains simple.

"I want them to feel better than when they came in. Whether its through a new class, a new friend, the food or simply watching their kids laugh," she said.

A key to the business is Liam, who's become assistant director, food tester and head baker — and found himself involved right from the planning stages of this new venture, even helping build the play structure.

"I was the one that went into the slides and tubes to hold the screws in place, because no one else could," he said.

Asked if he is proud of his mother and her accomplishments, he answered, "A little bit … no, medium." His mother welled up with emotion.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Prajwala Dixit


Prajwala Dixit is a journalist, columnist, playwright and writer in St. John's.