By Judy Antell

Café for the Stroller Set

  |  News & Tips  

Many coffee shops and casual restaurants are colonized by mothers’ groups, their babies and toddlers sometimes knocking knees with hot-beverage-toting professionals looking for Internet access. At café boo bah, in Cobble Hill, kids are the raison d’être, with indoor and outdoor playspaces and delicious, organic food (and strong coffee) for all comers. This baby wonderland, designed and managed by two local mothers who met in a mothers’ group and wanted a place for their kids to play and their families to eat and relax, opened in October. Ambika Cooper, who grew up in Boerum Hill, and Lena Seow, both have children, Lila and Max, who are turning three this summer. Though neither had café experience before having children, Cooper had worked in restaurants and Seow had helped in her parents’ bakery growing up in Malaysia. The playspaces, best for kids under age 5, can entertain preschoolers for hours. Outside, there is a giant sandbox and a large wooden climbing structure. Inside, much of the floor is covered with thick mats (you have to remove your shoes to enter the play area). Kids can use chalk on a wall of chalkboard or crayons on the crayon wall, stick Duplos on a Duplo wall and arrange the oversized abacus beads. There are also plenty of books for quiet time. The owners have a finely tuned sense of what kids like to eat and have gathered the best of local purveyors to serve a menu focused on healthy foods, many of them organic. “The hummus is from Sahadi’s because it’s the best,” Cooper says. Organic soups and muffins are imported from Café Goga, in Red Hook, another kid-friendly joint owned and run by a local mother. While there are some decidedly unhealthy choices – cupcakes and cookies – the prominent displays feature such treats as boxes of organic raisins, sugar-free ‘people’ pops and Pirate Booty. When everyone else is eating a tofu hot dog or a bowl of cheddar guppies, it’s easier to get your kids to make healthy choices. Boo bah is also a place where babies can eat; nursing mothers are invited to come in and nurse their babies, whether they buy something or not. And if you forget a jar of baby food, the café sells Earth’s Best along with teething biscuits. Also welcoming: the baby changing station is open to parents and caregivers, who don’t have to feel pressured to make a purchase if all they need is a clean place for a quick diaper change. The owners have made sure parents are happy, too, investing in a deluxe espresso machine so sleep-deprived moms and dads can have “really strong coffee”. The organic and natural food was chosen for “health and political reasons,” Cooper says, explaining that she doesn’t believe in giving antibiotics or hormones to animals or humans unnecessarily. There are small chairs and tables to make toddlers comfortable and “high chairs for those who can use them,” Cooper says. She adds that her own daughter was never the type to sit still in a stroller or high chair while her parents ate, so she needed to open a place where she could eat good food and let her daughter have fun. Grown-ups, however, have to sit on benches along one side, with a table they have to hunch over. Kids are happy to eat off the colorful plates, using chunky toddler flatware and drinking from plastic cups. Of course, the bathroom is also kid-friendly, with a stepstool and a potty seat for the toilet. The owners’ families helped put the café together, making café boo bah a true family affair; Cooper’s husband is an artist who painted the charming façade and designed the café’s website. Seow and her brother built the outdoor playspace and the indoor floor-to-ceiling abacus. Lila even came up with the name for the café. She nicknamed her friend Max ‘Maxie-boo bah’ and Cooper’s husband suggested the catchy ‘boo bah’ for the name of the establishment. Most of all, the owners want a place “where kids can be kids,” Cooper says, adding that in Malaysia, kids are “part of everything; no one cares if they’re messy — they’re kids.” She wants her young clientele to be loud, to have fun. Ironically, the owners’ own kids are usually not at boo bah while their mothers work there. Max visits with his babysitter, and Lila with her father, who watches her during the day; Cooper and Seow, who both work full-time at the cafe, say they cannot run the business while their kids play. The café offers a Family Night Out on Thursdays at 6pm. The evening gives couples a chance to reconnect; kids can listen to a storyteller or do arts & crafts, and parents can relax – a little. Adults can bring wine or beer, though parents still have to watch their kids; as Cooper notes, “There is no leaving kids here, ever.” Café boo bah is open daily, 9am-8pm, though it is closed some weekend afternoons for private birthday parties. Cooper advises calling ahead on weekends. Use of the playspace is $5, an all-day fee that allows you to leave for a nap (yours or your child’s) and return the same day. There are sibling, weekly and monthly discounts, and one child plays free if you spend $20 on food. Café boo bah is located at 298 Atlantic Avenue, between Smith and Hoyt Streets. For more information, call (718) 935-9773 or visit