Why Are Kid Friendly Cafes In Sydney Set Up To Fail?

  • Parents Only

I remember hearing the devastating news that one of my favourite kid-friendly cafes, Leichhardt's Hide and Seek, had made the pain-staking decision to close its doors for good. After just over a year of serving the little people of Sydney the owners found that the return on investment was not worth the immense effort it takes to run a small business.

Hide and Seek announce the news on their Facebook page


It came as a shock to the ellaslist team, and personally to me, as I had frequented the cafe on numerous occasions and found it to tick all the boxes for a kid-friendly cafe - the kids were happy and the parents were happy. Plus, it always seemed so busy!

So, what went wrong?

I contacted owner Brendan Lee for comment, however he declined to be interviewed so I can only speculate based on my years of frequenting cafes with babies, toddlers and preschoolers. What I can surmise is this:

Mums want the best for their kids at the expense of themselves: babycinnos, bento boxes, nutritious snacks - nothing is too much for our little ones. But as for eating out at cafes ourselves? It doesn't seem to be a priority. And when it is, we want to go somewhere without the kids so that we can enjoy that smashed avo in peace! When I dine at kid-friendly cafes I am happy just to have a coffee. A big breakky with a baby hanging off me or a toddler who is seconds away from a meltdown? It's not worth the risk. I'll eat the crusts off my toddler's toastie if I'm really hungry. Kid-friendly cafes might make a killing in babycinnos, but is that going to cover the costs of the staff who make them? 

We treat kid-friendly cafes as our playgrounds: As above. We might spend hours in these cafes chatting with other mums, but are we spending our money here? Although it seemed busy, Hide and Seek was quite possibly the equivalent of a playground on a weekday morning - full of kids playing on the equipment for hours while the parents nurse their single coffee. Hence why cafes near playgrounds are so popular....

Toddlers are terrible eaters: Yes, we might have the best intentions for our kids palates, but are they really going to eat that beetroot hummus and carrot sticks we just forked out $8 for? We might fool ourselves once, but never again. I remember the predecessing kid-friendly cafe Bubba Bar having strict rules about parents brining in food for their kids - and now I know why. Hide and Seek had an amazing menu for toddlers, but did our white-food purists at the table appreciate it? Or were we smuggling in potato chips just so they ate something in peace..... 

Location is everything: But wait, this cafe was smack bang in the middle of busy Norton street. There are young families everywhere! Unfortunately the inner-west is a hard area to crack. There are so many great cafes that we are spoiled for choice. Furthermore, when you call yourself a kid-friendly cafe in the inner west you lose a huge chunk of your clientele. Hear those shrieks of delight coming from the playroom? Yeah that's also the sound of hipsters, young couples, middle aged couples and parents with older kids walking on by to the next cafe. Sometimes it's better to be a cool cafe with a *discrete* kids area. Hush hush, darling, don't let the hipsters hear you read that book!

Sydney diners are so fickle: Sydneysiders are not loyal customers! We are always looking for the next big thing, the newest thing, the most Instagram-hot thing... even if it's a fad. Hellooooo freakshakes! We tick off cafes like we're working our way through a delicious bucket list. Of course this goes for all cafes, not just kid-friendly ones, and is the reason why we see so many of our favourites close. And then we kick ourselves when they do, 'oh why did I only go there once for that pretty breakfast with the fairy floss on top of it?' Oh right.... I've already moved onto the next big fad. 


Our Genuine Commiserations 

This was not an article to diss Hide and Seek Cafe. Like I said, I enjoyed the food, service and set up as much as my son enjoyed the cubby house and sand pit. It also deeply saddens me to see a business run by genuinely lovely people fail. I'm sure they set out to shake things up and with the amount of offerings they had for kids, from music classes to birthday parties, I am sure their loss will be felt by so many Sydney parents for a long time.

I'm also not here to bite the hand that (sometimes literally) feeds me - I think that kid-friendly cafes are a service to our kids. A place where they can socialise with others, try new foods that I would never attempt to make, and a place where like-minded parents can find solace over a strong coffee and not feel judged. I wish all the best to the owners of Hide and Seek Cafe and I secretly hope they try again with a slightly different formula - I am sure they have learnt so much from their time on Norton Street. Farewell. 

Have you signed up to our newsletter? Join ellaslist to get the best family and kid-friendly events, venues, classes and things to do NEAR YOU!





Feb 28 2018

I loved Hide and Seek and we were very sad to discover it had closed when we arrived on bike at it's doors on the weekend. We were the few that went so we could have a big breakfast, we can't do it at home with our Little One but there we could. Our little boy would happily play while we ate in peace. The best part about Hide and Seek that really set them apart from other "kid friendly" cafe's was that the area was gated off so little ones don't run away. Other places I spend my entire meal chasing after my son so definitely don't have a big brekky there. I do hope that they open something else just as good in it's place. And I wish the owners all the luck in the world with their next venture.



Feb 28 2018

One important factor you didn't mention, parking. If I can't find parking easily I don't go. simple. I need to load and unload 3 kids, I don't want to walk 5 blocks to the cafe because there's only street parking.