Kathy Schott and Ryan Sterner, the business partners who co-own Play Cafe, are both parents and Hampden residents. Here, they shared a little about their background, what inspired them to open a restaurant and what they do at Play Café.
baltimore family foodie guide: play café
Please tell us a little about yourself (both of you). What did you do prior to opening Play Cafe? How did you get started as restaurant owners?
Ryan: I managed restaurants for years and dreamt of opening my own place. This was a perfect situation – I was already planning to leave the place where I was when Kathy came to me with the idea for Play Café.
Kathy: My background is in marketing and event planning; I worked in New York and Washington, D.C. then moved back to Baltimore when I had my son. That’s when we came up with the idea.
What made you want to open Play Cafe?
Kathy: I had traveled to Iceland with my son and saw this place that was a combination restaurant, bar, play area and laundromat. That’s where I got the idea of having the play area in the restaurant. There are places like that all over the world, but not many in America.
I had a toddler at the time and Ryan also has little kids. Having little kids makes you realize how difficult it is to go out to eat with them. We thought Baltimore could use something like this!
What inspires you as restaurant owners? How does that inspiration come alive at Play Cafe?
Kathy: It’s very cool to see exactly what we’re trying to do come alive. Mothers, fathers, nannies – they all meet and can talk over coffee and lunch while the kids play and are occupied. The whole idea of the design is to let people with kids go out to eat and enjoy themselves.
A lot of people come in with older kids and tell us they wish something like this existed when their kids were little. And we do have a lot of people come in who don’t have kids with them! It fills a need for people without kids, too.
What is your favorite thing about owning Play Cafe?
Kathy: We’ve formed quite a community here. There are a lot of people who come in multiple times a week or even every day. It’s nice to have a community in this time and place.
Ryan: Some families have come here since we opened (in 2015). It’s great to watch their kids grow up. We feel like part of the family.
What about the food – what are you and guests are most enthusiastic about?
Kathy: The inspiration behind the kids’ food is things our kids like – like the TV trays, where you can mix and match.
And in the winter, we make soups from recipes that were our moms’. It’s fun to share the family recipes with other people. We like to keep it fresh but also do what we love, personally.
Ryan: Sometimes we have customers who come in who don’t have kids. When those people tell us they come here because the food is so good, that’s pretty rewarding.
Kathy: We definitely pride ourselves on having good food. It’s not just a place that caters to kids!
What else do you do that’s fun at Play Café?
Kathy: Birthday parties! That’s something people don’t always realize – we rent the space for birthday parties! We also host movie nights and story times. We’re first and foremost a restaurant, but we also do lots of fun special events.
What’s next for you and for the restaurant? Do you have any changes or new developments in the works?
Kathy: We always try to keep it fresh. We’re rotating things in the play area, redecorating, making it so when you come in the door, something’s new and it’s exciting.
Will your stroller fit? What kind of kid-friendly items are on the menu? Check out Play Cafe’s listing in our (cool) dining guide! Photos by Laura Black.