Coffee break at Crumsby’s Cupcake Café in Oak Bay means customers leave strollers and pink-tired bicycles outside while they relax indoors over plastic trucks and building blocks.
The Estevan Village café has created a niche by catering to families with young children. The mother with the boisterous three-year-old is not just tolerated but welcomed.
“Oh, this is wonderful,” said Crumsby’s customer Ayala Johnson, who was having coffee with three-year-old son Reide in tow.
“Where else can I take him? There just aren’t that many other places where I feel all that comfortable just hanging out with him.”
Crumsby’s is an example of the kind of business Success By 6 Victoria — initiated by the B.C. government in 2004 to improve early childhood learning — is trying to track with its annual survey of places, spaces and businesses popular with families.
Launched on Family Day and open until March 29, the online poll — called the Early Years Award Survey — recognizes businesses, programs and services that go the extra mile for young children and their families.
Respondents are asked to submit things like their favourite family recreation centre, restaurants and community programs.
Success By 6 co-chairman David Pitre sees the survey as more than just a feather in the cap of family-friendly businesses.
The goal is to get all of Greater Victoria on-side in creating an enriching place for kids.
“It’s about the whole notion of trying to help Greater Victoria be aware of and sensitive to the notion of family, with places that will nurture, support and cater to families,” Pitre said.
As proof of the need for family-friendly communities, Pitre cited a study released in 2010 by early-childhood researchers at the University of British Columbia.
The study showed nearly one in three B.C. youngsters who start kindergarten are unprepared, lacking the combination of language, cognitive, social and motor skills to make the most of their school experience.
Belinda Macey, co-ordinator of Victoria Child Care Resources and Referral, a B.C. government-funded group that works to assist families of young children, said people too often assume education is only about schools.
“Learning doesn’t simply happen as you go through the pearly gates of the school,” Macey said.
Getting out into the community, seeing other people, talking and listening as others talk can all be intellectually enriching for kids, she said.
Simply taking a child out for a meal is a chance to see other people, be in another environment, try out table manners and move around, if it’s allowed.
It’s also an opportunity for parents to relax and let someone else cook and serve.
Macey said a friendly server and a kitchen willing to accommodate an off-menu request — such as a side of vegetables for a child — can make all the difference.
“There is a whole young community out there that needs to be supported,” she said.
Macey said she often wonders why so many adults are unwilling to accommodate families. Kids squeal with delight and cry in frustration. So what?
“Where has all the delight gone in just looking at young families?” she asked.
Crumsby’s owner Maria Elwood said she has seen people come into her café, take a look at the kids and walk back out. Elwood doesn’t care; she knows her café isn’t for everybody.
But she said those who leave are outnumbered by customers, often seniors, who stay even when they aren’t accompanied by kids.
When she started the café about five years ago, she drew on her previous experience in early-childhood education and as a mother of three.
So at Crumsby’s, the furniture is robust. The colours are lively. A water cooler is available.
Washrooms have change tables. Most important, they have stools at the sinks, so parents don’t have to lift their children to wash their hands.
The careful attention to detail appears to have paid off. About a year ago, Crumsby’s expanded to Royal Oak, setting up shop in an old school.
The developer of a nearby condominium project had approached Elwood in search of a tenant with good community credentials to set up shop in the old school, which he had agreed to preserve as part of his development.
Elwood said it’s all part of what she envisioned when she started her business.
“I really have tried to make this a community place,” Elwood said. “It’s not for everybody, but on some Saturday mornings there is a real hum in here.”
Michelle Montgomery, mother of five-year-old Maya and 2 1/2-year-old Parker, has been coming to Crumsby’s for about three years.
She said it gives her kids a chance to socialize with other kids and play with unfamiliar toys. And it gives her an opportunity to enjoy a coffee, snack and conversation with friendly, understanding adults.
“So many businesses, you feel as though you are in the way,” Montgomery said. “But here, you can just relax.”
To vote in the Success by 6 Early Years Awards Survey, go to earlyyearsawards.com.
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