About two years ago, Shannon Valko was at a Chuck E. Cheese with her 2-year-old son, Will, when she realized she'd had enough.
"I couldn't take one more minute in there," she says. "He was having fun, but I was bored out of my mind."
So Valko and her brother Rob, 26, began plans for Little Beans Cafe, which opened last week on a a semi-industrial corner of Webster and Elston Avenues. The cafe is as much a sorely needed coffee-and-play spot in the Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods as it is a statement about what parents really want today.
The coffee - Intelligentsia blends - is top-notch and the decor is open, airy and sun-lit, trimmed with original timber and brick for a hybrid warehouse-meets-ski-lodge feel. Valko says the ideal age range is 2-5, but the carpeted play area also includes a crawl space, surrounded by a charming white picket fence, for a younger crowd.
Will, now 4, "test drove" every play feature in the place, Valko says. And he and his 4-month-old sister, Cindy, both have shout-outs in the form of street signs with their names on them.
"It seemed fair that if they were going to lose their mom for a year while [I planned] this, that they'd get something," Valko says.
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