A new eatery is open for business in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood, but this cafe comes with a twist.
It is the latest business venture for one mom on a mission to bring communities together one bite at a time. Little Cocoa Bean Co. Tot Cafe is a mix of restaurant and play space with the goal of presenting healthy, diverse food to kids in an approachable way while also bringing people together in the process.
Local mom turned entrepreneur Tracy Skelly started Little Cocoa Bean Co. years ago to fill a void she saw in the grocery store.
"Everything was very Eurocentric," Skelly said. "But, you know, we have a very diverse population now. People are coming from all over the world and they're raising their kids in ways where they want to incorporate some of those heritage foods."
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That journey has morphed from creating diverse baby food and baby food-making kits and products, to selling directly to consumers, to a pop-up storefront in the Boston's Seaport. It has now led to this new brick-and-mortar cafe and play space on South Street.
The cafe officially opened its doors Saturday, with several community members and leaders on hand for the big day.
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The food is interesting and incorporative of a variety of ingredients to ensure a wide range of options and nutrients.
"We have, for example, fries on the menu," Skelly said. "They're air-fried or baked, but we have things like Okinawan and purple potato fries. We have yuca fries, we have plantain fries."
The space is equipped with activities and toys, allowing kids to graze while they play. The attention to detail also includes tabletops you can draw on, and a goal to incorporate employees who have a mix of both early childhood education and retail experience. It is easy to see once inside that this is a mission that moves beyond just food.
"We get to sell our healthful, fresh, diverse meals from this particular space, but it allows us to also be in the community, give caregivers a space to come together as a community, to meet other people," Skelly said.
Many have yearned for that connection since the start of the pandemic.
The cafe combines all the ingredients to building strong and healthy kids, while also giving parents and caregivers a place to connect, grow, and learn themselves. They hold events in their back room, including parenting and postpartum workshops, as well as birthday parties. The space gives the smallest customers an opportunity to be themselves.
"They want to be messy; they want to be loud," Skelly said of the nature of children. "And so, parents, I think, are really excited to have a space that feels like it's for them and to feel like their kids are welcome and allowed to be kids."