Imagine your favorite Manhattan cafe: the smell of freshly roasted beans, tiny tables wobbling under clicking laptops, sticky pastries beckoning from behind glass counters. Now imagine what happens when you bring your kids there.
Most cafes don’t scream “children’s play space,” and many kid-friendly spots don’t have much to offer adults. But Tracey Stewart is changing all that with Moomah, the family-focused cafe and art oasis she opened a year and a half ago. Located on a quiet block in Tribeca, Moomah welcomes parents (and everyone else) with a vibe that could be described as pleasantly and unpretentiously hip, and a delicious cafe menu that features local seasonal fare, Counter Culture Coffee, beer and wine selections, and of course lots of great kids’ staples. But the offerings that set it apart from other cafes—and also from other play spaces—are its original and varied menu of “do-it together” art projects; creative classes for kids in music, writing and cooking; and a wondrous multi-media interactive children’s experience she aptly calls the Funky Forest.
“I started to get frustrated with what was being offered to my kids,” says Stewart, who has two children with her husband, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart. “I would send my kids out to an art class and they would come home with a piece of construction paper with some glitter on it. I would [think], ‘This is what you did with my kids’ time?’” Collaborative craft projects at Moomah avoid the clichés of bad children’s artwork. From nature-inspired shadow boxes to embroidery and jewelry making, each is designed to inspire in age-appropriate ways—there are challenges aplenty for tots as well as tweens.
“We set the kids up for success,” Stewart says. “If we’re going to have them glue down images, we give them beautiful images, so that when they bring it home to Grandma and Grandpa, Grandma and Grandpa don’t have to pretend—it really is fabulous.”
Before starting her family cafe, Stewart had a varied career, first as a graphic designer and later as a vet tech. In addition to the originality of the crafts, her design background also comes through in Moomah’s décor: egg-shell blue color scheme, whimsical artwork, cozy booths tastefully decorated with images from nature, maple wood floors. The pristine space is soothing and sophisticated. Comfy seating compliments a small library housing everything from Michael Pollan to “The Bugliest Bug.” In back are kid-height crafting tables and a large wood door that leads to the classroom and Funky Forest space.
The Funky Forest—perhaps Moomah’s most unique feature—is a product of Stewart’s unique and inventive creative approach. A high-tech, interactive art installation, the Forest lets kids influence a living ecosystem through light and movement. Children stand with arms overhead to grow a tree, sweep pillows across the floor to water plants, see creatures come and go depending on the health of the forest, and watch the seasons change. In the Funky Forest, kids learn how their actions affect the environment.
children play in the Forest—or take classes like Secret Agent Spy
Training, Imaginative Toy Creation, and Gloga (glow-in-the-dark yoga)—parents can watch on the flat screen television in the dining area while
sipping a cappuccino or glass of Pinot.
of the inspiration behind Moomah was to give parents a way to connect,
both with fellow parents and with their kids. “I was never one to join
mom’s groups,” says Stewart. “To me, a cafe environment was more
natural. In that moment, where there’s another mom sitting next to you,
struggling or enjoying herself, you might reach out—you might start to
understand that you’re not alone.”
fact, Stewart makes sure her staff is particularly attuned to the needs
of parents—when a mom at a nearby booth is attempting to corral her
young child while her baby is having a meltdown, staff members will take
notice and lend a hand.
order to foster quality time between parents and children, every art
project integrates cues for conversation. “When their mind is focused on
a project, [kids] tend to talk more,” Stewart says. “Their real lives
bleed into those things.”
if they won’t talk to you, they might talk to Moomah’s puppet,
Supertryer, who visits kids and encourages them to try new things.
Supertryer baskets—Moomah’s healthy version of the Happy Meal—offer
samples of fruit, vegetables and hummus along with a little prize.
love to be praised for trying new things,” says Stewart. “Supertryer is
a way to give them a little taste of something without too much
itself is a lesson in the benefit of trying new things. “We think of
[Moomah] as our think tank,” says Stewart. “We become close with people
here. Customers and staff like to sit around and say ‘What else could we
do?’” When they have trouble making decisions, they half-jokingly play
the question-and-answer game What Would Jon Stewart Do? “If we’re on the
fence about something, we call him and we’re like, ‘Alright, we have a
What Would Jon Stewart Do?,’” says Tracey, who has been married to Jon
for ten years. “He has an incredible internal barometer, so he’s become a
kind of coach for us.”
Moomah is in the midst of plenty of decision-making as it begins to
expand its offerings. Specifically, Stewart plans to open the space on
certain days for families with children with special needs.
also hopes to reach more and more families outside of Tribeca,
particularly those with “kids that don’t have access to creative
things,” she says. “Tribeca is a high-income neighborhood; I would love
to bring [Moomah] to other populations.”
Stewart takes Moomah, she remains committed to preserving the cozy,
creative spirit that permeates the space—as well as the thoughtful,
personal touches that keep families coming back. “My daughter, who’s
four, said the other day, ‘Mommy, you have the best restaurant because
you have crafts and classes and no one else has that,’” Stewart says.
“There’s such an emotional thing happening here—we just thought of
everything and people appreciate that.”
Moomah Cafe is located at 161 Hudson Street. For more information, visit moomah.com.
Top photo: A young patron completes a craft project at Moomah.
Bottom photo: Tracey Stewart, founder of Moomah, at the cafe.
Photos by Daniel S Burnstein.