Businesswoman and mother of twins opens a community gathering spot

Elizabeth Dewalt (left), cafe manager, and Lizz Quain, founder and owner of Playdate Cafe

Elizabeth Dewalt (left), cafe manager, and Lizz Quain, founder and owner of Playhappy Cafe

Written by Hope Tinney

LYNNWOOD, Wash.—Playhappy Café in Lynnwood is fast becoming a gathering place for year-round child engagement.

Located near the intersection of I-5 and 405, the 8,500-square-foot facility is drawing parents, babies, toddlers and preschoolers from all over the Puget Sound who are looking for low-stress, high-energy fun on a rainy day.

In addition to a 2,000-square-foot play space, with adjacent seating so parents can supervise their tots and check messages, the facility includes two birthday rooms, a morning preschool, afternoon enrichment classes and a dance studio.

The café at the figurative heart of the facility serves up healthy salads, snacks and sandwiches, and, of course, steaming lattes.

Barely a year old, Playhappy Café seems to be in a constant state of motion, and it’s not just the toddlers in the ball pit. Owner Lizz Quain added Spanish and Mandarin classes for kids in March and fitness classes for moms last fall. Next up on her “to do” list is an outdoor play area.

“I’m trying to be the one-stop shop where children can play, learn, eat and celebrate,” said Quain, the mother of 5-year-old twin girls.

When you’re bringing a new concept to market, timing is everything. Indoor play centers inspired by upscale children’s museums have been around for more than a decade, but they are relatively new to the Seattle area.

When Quain started working on her business plan in 2010 there were only a handful of indoor play centers for children 0 to 6 years old in all of Washington State, and none were operating on the scale she envisioned.

There are now about a dozen indoor play centers in the region, but in March 2014, the Red Tricycle named Playhappy Café the best in the greater Seattle area.

It was a long journey and from the beginning she was able to draw on the expertise of Rich Shockley, a certified business advisor with the Washington SBDC.

A single mother of twin preschoolers, Quain didn’t just know her target market, she was her target market. Even so, Shockley pushed her to verify every assumption

Quain, who has 20 years experience in sales and marketing in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles, first met Shockley in 2010 while participating in Highline Community College’s StartZone, a microenterprise training program.

Shockley said Quain’s business plan was one of the best he’s ever seen during his years with the SBDC. “The target market was clearly defined, the market demand was documented, the forecast and cost structure was clearly laid out, and the timeline for launch of the various revenue streams was documented,” he said.

“I didn’t have a business partner, so it was really good to have Rich to talk to,” Quain said. “I’m sure he could be doing a lot of other things with his life, so I really appreciate that he has decided to do this.”

A veteran of other start-ups, Quain never expected opening her own business would be easy, but neither did she anticipate how hard it would be to secure a loan or a lease.

With every setback, she said, she knew she could count on Shockley. “He’d say, “Okay, that’s bad, but let’s figure this out.’”

She and Shockley reviewed the various sales categories and service offerings, determined the costs associated with each, estimated revenues by category and created a timeline for launching the various revenue streams.

Staffing has been a major issue because there are so many facets to the business and because child safety is so critical. Quain employs 13 people, including two preschool teachers and a café manager.

Shockley also worked with Quain to define the equipment needs for the café, reviewed the layout and design of the café, reviewed the lease, estimated building out costs, and discussed loan packaging and pro-forma financial documents. The two have also discussed various staffing issues that have come up.

“His help has been invaluable,” Quain said.

Walking through the facility and seeing children and grown-ups smiling and laughing is a huge satisfaction, Quain said.

“And even when children cry on their way out because they don’t want to leave makes me realize what a valued and needed community gathering spot this has become,” she said.

“It makes all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile.”