A sanctuary for adults, an exciting playground for children, and an educational space, the indoor playground-café combo known as Play-a-Latte has transformed a storefront in the Chicopee neighbourhood of Kitchener into something captivating for adults and children alike. Those who cross the threshold for the first time experience something magical; immediately drawn into the roar of activity and hullabaloo that surrounds the children’s play area. There is, however, an oasis of calm, anchored in the scent fresh-brewed coffee and rich cappuccinos. The coffee shop, decorated in a muted colour scheme, is a sanctuary, and the space first entered by visitors. Parents can enjoy their cuppa without worry, as just past the counter, a large window reveals the play area. Here, children up to the age of 7 can be seen climbing, running, jumping and playing on the indoor equipment. And in the back, visible from the play area, there is a studio space for the delivery of programming for both children and parents. It is in these three spaces, with the special combination of serenity and hubbub, that the vision of Ronak Patel and Heather MacNeill-Patel is coming to life.
When Renison alumni Ronak and Heather decided to open Play-a-Latte, it was the culmination of years of consideration. While the pair, who met at Renison, knew they wanted to open their own business, the arrival of their first child opened their eyes to the lack of spaces that welcomed families in Kitchener-Waterloo. Heather, who graduated Renison with a Bachelor of Social Work in 2009, wanted a space to create community, a sentiment echoed by Ronak. Heather explains that she became especially appreciative of spaces where both she and her children were fully welcome, and where she could sit down with a drink she didn’t have to prepare herself. That’s when the idea for Play-a-Latte began to brew.
The couple speaks a lot about community connection, a value at the core of Play-a-Latte - seen in both the physical design and the programming they offer. Their vision is to have a space where parents can come to relax, access programming and – perhaps most importantly – find themselves part of a community. In our short time together, every group coming in, each on their way to the play area, checked in with Heather and Ronak, and greeted each other as if they were old friends – this warm and welcoming space seems to have already become a community meeting place.
Heather, a social worker, comments that one of the major issues addressed by the space is isolation, which is often experienced by new parents. Currently the structured programming offered for parents includes topics like carseat safety and parenting techniques, but Heather intends to expand the slate to include programming that supports the mental health of parents. Art therapy and access to a sleep consultant are both ideas in the works, and a session on post-partum depression was offered at the beginning of November. For Ronak, the involvement of fathers is particularly close to his heart. There are a small group of Dads who visit Play-a-Latte, but he would like to develop programming that encourages fathers to attend and engage with their children, perhaps while learning a new parenting skill, all while in a comfortable space. If that wasn’t enough – there are already many programs available for children, led by an Early Childhood Educator, and even family yoga classes!
Ronak connects his desire to create a community at Play-a-Latte to his time at Renison, shared with Heather. They met when they were both hired as Renison residence Dons in the summer of 2006. The community atmosphere encouraged the development of friendships and emotional bonds – many of which continue today. Heather and Ronak’s love story even made a return to Renison when they became engaged in front of fellow alumni at a College Dinner with the help of Renison staff members.
Heather and Ronak are Renison alumni, entrepreneurs, and community builders. The Renison community is proud to count them among its members – we can’t wait to see where Play-a-Latte will go from here!