You would think that as a family with seven children we would have received lifetime memberships to Chuck E. Cheese by now, but we actually haven’t been patrons of the pizza emporium too often. It was just too tricky with five born within five years, so only classmate or extended-family birthday celebrations compelled us to step in its doors.
But if we’d had the finances to do so, we might have been lured into signing up for an American version of the upscale venture in West London opened by two mums who were frustrated by the poor choices available for a family outing with small children.
A Daily Telegraph interview with co-founder Maggie Bolger, who is now the sole proprietor, described it thusly:
Small children are delighting in a silvery ball pool; the café area alongside is achingly cool. Silky lattes are served in tin mugs on gingham trays. Dads in black-framed glasses read broadsheets as their kids happily make pretend lunch inside the shabby chic play-hut. . . .
Maggie & Rose’s sales come from a £585 per family membership fee and sales of children’s classes in cooking, dance, art and music.
It would be so easy to sneer at Maggie & Rose as an elitist enclave but there’s no doubt that there’s a philanthropic element to their drive. “It is awesome when parents tell me how much they like spending time here. We currently have 250 members (a membership includes parents, carers and grandparents) and we may reach 400 but we don’t want to oversell. I’m a parent so I’m the key customer. And I’m fussy. Our own kids gauge it. They all come here. I want it to feel like coming to a mate’s house.”
What I really like about this story is that two busy mothers took on this venture when their children were still very young (and in fact, Maggie became pregnant with her fourth child during the start-up process). They blazed a trail as they faced doubtful businessmen, and Maggie remained very hands-on even as she added another venue.
. . . in the long term, what’s the ideal scenario? Does she want to be bought out by a large company for several million in five years time? She looks puzzled. “I’d rather it remained in the family and the kids ran it. I’ve already had my eldest two working on the reception. Businesses that sell out can lose their spirit. I don’t want that. I always say that if you deliver a good product and good service the rewards will come. You can’t be driven by money. We’ve almost lost everything. That’s why our investors support us – they know we’ve been prepared to risk everything to get here.” And every parent sheltering from the rain while their kids burn off some energy, looks immensely grateful that they have.