• The Seeds Of Success

    One Of The City’s Leading Children’s Activity Centers—apple seeds—Takes Its Special Offerings For Kids Across The Globe, And Now Finally Uptown

    By Katie Main

    Photos by Karen Haberberg

    The story goes something like this: Two moms cram their
    double-wide strollers into a freight elevator on their way to a mommy & me
    music class. Sizing up each other’s cargo, they strike up a conversation.

    “Twins?”

    “Twins.”

    “Hi, I’m Alison.”

    “Hi, I’m Allison.”

    “I’m from Jersey.”

    “Really? I’m from Jersey.”

    For most, this might be nothing more than the cliché
    meet-cute of a beautiful (if potentially confusing) friendship. For Allison
    Schlanger and Alison Qualter Berna, it was the opening scene of an equally
    bright business partnership. Along with their respective husbands, Craig
    Schlanger and Bobby Berna, the moms would soon become Co-Founders of apple
    seeds
    , an all-in-one play space in Manhattan’s
    Flatiron District bringing birthday parties, varied classes and even kiddie
    haircuts to the five-and-under set.

    At the time of their chance meeting back in 2005, the two
    sets of parents bonded over raising twins as the entrepreneurial stars aligned:
    Allison had just left her career as an executive producer at MTV; Alison was struggling
    with how to transition from her position at UNICEF into something that would
    mesh with motherhood and keep her mind active; Craig was considering his next
    move from Wall Street as a trader, while Bobby had already established a résumé
    as a business development executive working with start-ups.

    Meanwhile, in the city blocks surrounding Madison Square Park
    where the Schlangers and the Bernas lived, changes were afoot. “Even though all
    these families had moved in, the neighborhood hadn’t caught up and was still
    very commercial and business-oriented,” explains Allison—hence the freight
    elevator setting during that initial introduction.

    So, the foursome took matters into their own hands. And nine
    months after their first official business meeting —where a bottle of red wine
    helped get the creative juices flowing—apple seeds was born.

    The buzz was immediate. The team sold memberships based on
    solely design sketches to parents in the nearby Madison Square Park
    area. “We had several hundred members before we opened on March 1, 2007,” says Alison. Her husband, Bobby,
    adds: “I think early on we knew we were on to something.”

    Just like the couples’ two sets of twins—Sam and Ari
    Schlanger, and Madeleine and Sydney Berna—now age seven, apple seeds has been
    growing. With licensed partnerships now in Dubai,
    Mexico City and Mumbai,
    the facility’s carefully documented curriculum and design features have been
    packaged and implemented across the globe. Closer to home, there are now apple
    seeds-branded playgrounds in several residential buildings sprouting up around Manhattan—with
    signature NYC-themed interactive stations, like a grocer’s deli next to Central
    Park.

    “From a business perspective, apple seeds was designed with
    the intent to scale it,” says Craig, when talking about the company’s
    impressive growth. And while the business’ popularity has been gathering steam
    with licensing deals, the team has notably waited to open a new space in
    Manhattan under their own management—until now, with their new full-service
    venue on the Upper West Side.

    “People were asking us when we first opened, ‘When are you
    gonna move Uptown?’ and it always felt premature,” says Allison. Though friends
    and brokers were constantly pitching the team retail space leads, the team felt
    like they weren’t quite ready in terms of experience and timing. “[Now,] we’re
    confident exporting this to the Upper West Side or to Dubai,”
    Alison adds.

    With their long-time staff and meticulously developed
    programming ready to go, the final puzzle piece proved difficult to fit:
    finding the perfect place. “You really have to find the right space at the
    right price and that’s hard to do. It took years,” says Craig.

    What cinched the deal for the Upper West Side?
    “The location,” he responds succinctly. “And the ground-floor access,” Alison
    chimes in, speaking to the frustration of any caregiver who has arrived late to
    their toddler’s art class thanks to a filled-to-capacity elevator.

    Located on West End Avenue
    between 69th and 70th Streets, smack in the heart of a neighborhood teeming
    with residential properties packed with young families, the newest apple seeds feels
    very much like the original. That is no mistake; the team is betting on
    parents’ universal desire for a safe, clean, fun place to take their kids.
    Explains Allison, “We always say we built apple seeds to be your basement, your
    backyard, your own personal park.” Alison finishes her co-founder’s thought: “I
    think people appreciate that wherever they are.”"F45C8634revfinal.JPG"

    From its play-based curriculum to its ever-popular birthday
    party themes, what members know and love about the Flatiron location can now be
    found Uptown as well, right down to the playground’s big yellow taxi. “That
    playground is the exact same whether you’re in One
    Columbus Circle, here in the Flatiron or in Dubai,”
    says Alison. Even the non-toxic cleaning products have been reordered for the
    new space.

    The only change that comes with expansion, perhaps, is the
    team’s renewed dedication to their classes, from art and yoga, to science and
    soccer. “The bigger we get the deeper we’ve gone with the curriculum,” declares
    Allison. Though an eventual apple seeds school might be a dream-come-true for
    some, Alison reminds preschool-happy families: “We always knew we weren’t a
    school and we never call ourselves a school. However, we recognize the huge
    responsibility when you have a child at a key learning age in your environment
    45 minutes every week.”

    Classes, instead, emphasize confidence-building and
    play-based socialization like songs for seeds, a music program developed
    in-house by Ray Andersen. Known to apple seeds enthusiasts as mr. RAY,
    Andersen wrote all the music and lyrics for songs for seeds. Incorporating an
    original soundtrack performed by a live band with a game show-esque spinning
    wheel, the class is their standout offering—and headed for the Upper
    West Side too.

    While the opening of their new location may be the latest
    addition to the apple seeds family, it is not the only one. Befitting of their
    parallel beginnings, both Alison and Allison each welcomed a third child with
    the same synchronicity with which their friendship began. Born just two months
    apart, Alison’s Jack and Allison’s Dov, are currently deep in the throes of
    toddlerhood. Translation: these mompreneurs are sitting in on classes not as
    owner-observers, but as pleased participants all over again.

    “I have a new fire in my belly about apple seeds,” Allison
    says beaming. “apple seeds is part of both of our families, it really is like
    another child. We work as a family here.”

    Erika
    Thormahlen writes about fashion, family and travel from NYC.

    To read more about apple seeds’ beginnings check
    out “Double the Fun.”

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