Piccadilly Circus is a public gathering place where five streets come together to organize London’s chaotic West End. Piccadilly Modern Play and Creative Café in Bexley on East Main is a cheerful space where the Columbus parent can carve out a few hours of order within their chaotic day in a way that can’t be done in a regular coffee shop, fast casual restaurant, or park setting. Piccadilly allows a child to be involved in structured play or classes while a parent has lunch, catches up online, chats with adults, or just leaves to get a massage.
Allyson Morena, Columbus parent and owner of Piccadilly Café, reflected on her experiences to form some of the café’s philosophy to meet the simultaneous, but differing, needs of children and parents to play, socialize, explore, network, and enjoy a new phase of their lives. Morena wanted a place where being a parent didn’t mean she couldn’t be an adult as well.
“When it comes to parents and moms and new moms, you’re not really sure where to go. In your life you may have just defined yourself by your career, and all the sudden you’ve stopped and now you’re wondering what you’re going to do, and how do you find yourself and how do you get to know yourself as a mom,” she said.
In a world that seems to be designed around adult-friendly destinations and kid-friendly locations, but not both at the same time, Piccadilly has become that place where kids can be with kids, and parents can spend quality time with other adults, and everyone can be themselves (occasional meltdowns included)—a bit of a rarity in the world of busy families.
“There’s places where you go and it’s just for kids. You go in and you go out—maybe like a Gymboree class or something where’s there’s not a lot of opportunity to meet other moms,” explained Morena. “If you go to Starbucks and you have screaming baby you’re kind of anxious about it and don’t know if you’re annoying everybody else.”
Piccadilly’s “hybrid” space houses a play area, a child-sized amphitheatre, and outdoor seating area, and Piccafe, a café that serves up grilled cheese and chicken nuggets along with harvest kale salad and avocado toast, so that no one’s tastes or nutrition are compromised.
Among Piccadilly’s many popular classes is Piccadilly’s Culinary Institute. Children ages 18 months to six years old make biscuits, muffins, empanadas, and other delicious treats. Unique and challenging, the Culinary Institute is again designed around opportunities Morena wishes had been available for her own children when they were younger. And for Morena, it’s almost never too early to learn to love kitchens and cooking.
“When they’re 18 months or so, they’re learning that tasting food’s ok. They’re kind of getting used to being in a classroom setting…watching other kids do things,” Morena said. “As they get older, they’re understanding, ‘Oh the food that shows up in front of me, that’s comprised of different elements.’ ”
Morena lets children participate as much as they are able, knowing that children are more likely to try different tastes and different foods when they help make those foods. (Operating the mixer is especially popular, as one might imagine.) When the class bakes frosted lemon meltaway shortbread cookies, it’s almost a guarantee that everyone will want some frosting, but everyone also tries a bit of lemon.
“I have everyone show me their sour face, and we make faces when we taste the lemons,” laughed Morena, who is literally a “hands-on” teacher, helping small fingers squeeze a lemon, zest a rind, strain seeds, or blend butter and sugar.
Curiosity, cooperation, physical coordination, social skills, and fun all comes together in class where children learn that they have the power to shape and create a dish, controlling the colors, flavors and appearance. Ultimately, Morena hopes that the classes will create more general food awareness of the beauty of natural foods.
“All these natural foods can come together and make something,” Morena said. “Those extra ingredients don’t need to be added.”
Cooking and life depends on finding balance, and Piccadilly helps with both—providing a physical space for families to gather and enjoy, and a place to help redefine productivity and the idea of the “perfect parent.”
“One of my favorite things is when people are having birthday parties for their kids and they’re inviting others that they met at Piccadilly and they’re creating long friendships out of that,” Morena said. “It’s great.”
Piccadilly Café is located at 2501 E Main St. in Bexley. For hours, events, and class schedules, visit piccadillydally.com.