Indoor playground, cafe opens in Evanston for family activities

Tori Latham, Assistant City Editor

A Chicago-based indoor playground and family cafe is expanding to Evanston, the first such business in the city.

Little Beans Cafe, 430 Asbury Ave., opens Friday and will provide Evanston residents with an imaginative play space that caters to families and children up to age 12, said Shannon Valko, the cafe’s co-owner.

“We’re a community center for play and learn activities where you can also get a good cup of coffee,” she said.

Valko and her brother Rob Spengler first opened Little Beans four years ago when her son was an infant, she said. She had been looking to open a My Gym children’s recreation center location when plans fell through and she decided to start her own business.

The Evanston resident said she wanted to expand the business and kept passing by the building at the corner of Asbury Avenue and Oakton Street and noticed it had been vacant for a while.

“It’s such a great spot because it’s central to both the city and the suburbs,” she said. “It’s our first space of this size and scale, which is very exciting.”

Mark Muenzer, Evanston’s director of community development, said the city welcomed the idea of Little Beans taking over the space because it is anticipated to bring a wide variety of people to that part of Evanston.

“That building had been vacant for a long time,” he said. “Anytime you have a vacancy at a popular corner, it has a negative impact on the rest of the block. They are refurbishing that building and really activating the area.”

The new location will house the cafe along with a play area for younger children, a ninja warrior course for older kids, a karaoke room, a half-court gym and a drive-thru, said Arlene Hummel, the programming assistant and assistant manager at Little Beans Evanston who has been with the cafe since it first opened. The shop will also host classes, events, workshops, children’s parties and a summer camp program.

“It’s really the same concept as the Chicago location, but much bigger in size,” she said. “It’s been a great journey to see what it is today.”

The main goal of the cafe is to provide a place where both kids and parents can go and enjoy time together, Valko said.

“We really want it to become a family destination as well as a place where people can gather and meet friends,” she said.

Valko said she has received positive feedback from the community, especially after hosting a preview of the space at the joint 8th and 9th Ward meeting Feb. 5.

“I’ve gotten about 20 people a day just coming in to check out the space,” she said. “People seem very excited that we’re helping to turn this corner around.”

Hummel said the space has a great atmosphere and she could not wait to introduce Little Beans to Evanston and reach a new group of kids and adults.

“We want to bring the community together with our events and partnerships,” she said. “It’s a fun overall place to just get together and play and relax.”

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