It’s high noon. Moms, babies and toddlers are milling about a registration desk, trying to dodge boot puddles so as to avoid soggy socks. The bright, smiling lady at the desk is checking people in with military precision, completely unfazed by the chaos just metres away. In the background I can see Canadian Figure Skating legend and Olympic Gold Medalist Jamie Sale carrying a tray of food across the room to a table of hungry customers. Her husband, two-time Stanley Cup Champion Craig Simpson, hands me a clipboard and asks me to sign the waiver.
This is Sweet Pea Cafe and Playhouse – the brainchild of the aforementioned Sale, an Edmonton mom and entrepreneur who saw a need in her community, and filled it in truly unique style. And if the bustling, boisterous crowd we encountered on a Tuesday afternoon is any indication, the community is embracing her vision.
The Cafe side of Sweet Pea has been open for several months. They serve a plant-based menu featuring delicious baked goods, hearty kid favourites, and of course, the full offerings of a coffee bar. Kids will delight in the lunch pack of six favourites served in a muffin tin, and cinnamon bun fans of all ages should make a point of stopping to taste Sweat Pea’s signature treat.
That said, even sweet, sticky cinnamon buns were lost on my kids today. They had one thing, and one thing only, on their minds – the playhouses, which opened for bookings on November 1, 2018. We entered the gated area, and I managed to steer them away from the fun zone just long enough to remove winter garb and apply nametags to their backs, identifying them as mine. (a playhouse requirement)
Then, they were off.
I tried. I really, truly, tried to snap decent pictures of my kids in the throws of imaginative play – but as soon as I’d crouch down to their level, iphone in hand, they’d immediately whip off their costume, drop the props, and make a beeline for the next playhouse. They spent the hour as teachers, firefighters, veterinarians, store clerks, restaurant servers, customers, and much more.
They delighted in discovering the tiny details in each new space. (The beeping, light-up scanner in the grocery store deserves special mention!) The playhouses are not only elaborate, and beautiful, they’re named after Edmonton neighbourhoods. They are definitely built for the littles – I know I wasn’t the only mom to bump her head on a fire hall visit.
In addition to the playhouses, there is a lovely baby area with soft rugs, exercisers and age-appropriate toys; an art space with tables and chalk board; costume corner; and a very cool, oversized “Operation” game.
Bookings at Sweet Pea can be made in one-hour increments, with a half-hour set aside between each booking for staff to clean and re-organize the toys. If you book multiple blocks, you may stay during the cleaning time, and staff will work around you. Our hour went by in a flash, and I made a mental note to opt for a longer visit in the future. Each time slot allows up to 15 children to enjoy the playhouses, which, when you add staff and parents to the mix, makes for a tight, but manageable, play experience.
Visitors to the playhouse side can order food from the cafe, but it must remain in the back room – no food or drink is allowed in the play space. A couple of other rules of note – socks are required, and parents must remain on site. The cafe is open from 7 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday, and 9 am to 5 pm weekends, and Playhouse bookings are accepted for 9 am, 10:30 am, 12 pm, 1:30 pm, 3 pm, and 4:30 pm every day of the week.
In the interest of full disclosure, I found the booking process a little tricky, as I couldn’t register both my kids in one transaction, and I had to go back and repeat everything for my second daughter. Other than that, I found the entire Sweet Pea Cafe and Playhouse experience to be friendly, charming and fun. My almost-four-year-old daughters LOVED it, and can’t wait to return – and I would say that is the most important customer review of all!
Sweet Pea Cafe and Playhouse:
Where: 14328 – 85 Avenue, Edmonton (map)
Time: Cafe – Monday to Friday 7 am – 6 pm, Saturday and Sunday 8 am to 6 pm
See website for playhouse booking time slots