Shannon Valko and her brother, Rob Spengler, co-owners of Little Beans Play Café, at the lighthouse in the center hall. Little Beans will open Feb. 13.                     RoundTable photo

It is possible that a quarter of the people on hand for a soft opening of Little Beans Play Café on Feb. 6 were too tiny to reach the counter to order coffee and too young to drink it. Owners Shannon Valko and her brother, Rob Spengler, split the managerial duties: Mr. Spengler manages the food and the front-end of the play café, and Ms. Valko takes care of “all things children.”

The café itself is just to the left of the spacious entry hall. Parents and caregivers can enjoy their food and drink while older kids – 7 years and up – enjoy the zip line and other inside enticements in the Big Beans area. Parents and caregivers of those up to age 6 must accompany their children, who can play among the buildings and run around in the Little Beans play area – no shoes allowed in either place.

After their successful venture in Chicago, “We really wanted an urban-suburban area,” Mr. Spengler said. Their choice of the long-vacant site on Asbury Avenue just south of Oakton Street appeared to delight City officials.

“You can’t imagine how much better it could be,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “The site has been vacant for close to 10 years.”  The Cafe is located on the site of a former Osco Pharmacy at Oakton and Asbury. She said several prospective tenants had come and gone – some rejecting the site, others rejected by the City – and she felt the long wait paid off.

“We are so excited that it’s here,” said Ninth Ward Alderman Coleen Burrus. “This is the perfect combination of residential and business.”

“We’ve needed a place for families – particularly in winter,” said Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. I’m just delighted that this is here.”

With its official opening still on the horizon, Ms. Valko said she is already planning additional programming. “We’ve talked with Pat McCort, president of Ridgeville Park District, about ways to partner with Little Beans. Fonseca Martial Arts may offer classes here – parents can have a cup of coffee while they wait. … And we’re planning summer camps for kids in three different age groups – 2-5 years; 5-7 years and 8-10 years,” she said.

Looking around at the children romping in the Little Beans Play Area, Mr. Spengler and Ms. Valko seemed very happy. “We’ve been waiting for this part for a while,” he said. “We’re ready for the fun.”

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...