Get silly, use your imagination, and make some memories at a very unique business in Evanston.
Located at 1809 West Webster Avenue, Little Beans Cafe is a family cafe featuring an imaginative indoor playground for kids. It began in the midst of a recession 10 years ago and has blossomed into a family favorite.
The idea for the cafe began as Shannon Valko searched for places featuring drop-in play with her child.
“I was working full time, traveling and missing my son,” Valko recalls. “I decided I wanted to make at run being a business owner and wanted to create a destination for play, events, classes and community.”
Partnering with her brother, the team built Little Beans from the ground up, in what Valko calls a “wonderfully fun and challenging ride!”
The Main recently had an opportunity to learn more about the growth of the cafe and how it has evolved into the destination it is today.
The Main: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Shannon Valko: The kids! I love kids and I have really enjoyed watching kids grow up with Little Beans. We have customers who started going to our Chicago store when they were babies and they are now 9. It’s been fun to be a part of kids childhoods in Chicago, even in a small way! I also like the events and coming up with clever and unique events.
The Main: What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered and how did you overcome it?
Valko: The biggest challenge is our seasonality. It’s not a challenge we can necessarily overcome since it’s somewhat out of our control, but we have found ways to stay afloat with programming and creative incentives. Most people want to come to Little Beans when its cold and rainy and a park isn’t an option. The perfect weather days we are pretty darn slow. It can be challenging, from a staffing and programming perspective, to go from a full space to an empty space in a matter of a day. It requires flexible staff and creative scheduling to make it work and remain sustainable.
The Main: Who inspires you and why?
Valko: Definitely my kids. It’s interesting to see their perspective on life having come from a entrepreneurial family. They already know how to work hard and they get the challenges of putting work first when needed. In addition, my Moms in Business community is pretty inspiring. There is a large group of women business owners in Chicago and I’ve watched many of us in the woman owned business community, start and flourish as business owners. It’s a pretty special thing to watch and is definitely inspiring.
The Main: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about running a business?
Valko: I think most importantly I’ve learned that you can’t plan out what your day or even your month is going to look like. You need to wear a lot of hats and go with the flow. You need to not be afraid to try new things and fail. We like to “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks”. When you own a business in a public space, anything can happen and everyone has a different opinion or perspective on what they want from their experience. Being able to listen and feel okay that you are doing your best and knowing that sometimes that has to be enough was a challenge for me for a long time. Years later, I think I finally have learned to just be a good person, try hard to do the best you can for your business, staff and community and hope for the best.
The Main: Can you describe a moment or moments when you stopped and realized this is why you are doing what you’re doing with your life?
Valko: I don’t think it was one moment or even a number of moments. I think sometimes, even now, I don’t know if I’m doing “what I’m supposed to be doing” BUT I do know that when I look back on this journey, Little Beans has brought a lot of joy to kids and families and knowing that makes me happy. I control the effort I put in so when I get down or even tired, I just try and remember that this business has given me the opportunity to create jobs, make people happy and spend more time with my kids than I would if I had a more traditional job. I love creating new businesses so Little Beans was just the start and now with every new thing we take on, the more I feel like I’m in the right place.
The Main: What advice would you offer to other small business owners?
Valko: You’ll never know if you don’t try. Also, I used to get really worked up when someone was upset or didn’t have a positive experience, for whatever reason (even if it was out of my control). I think it’s important to remember that sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with you, even if it feel like it does. Just do the best you can to be a fair and good representative of your business and try to not sweat the small stuff.
Welcome Home: The Main Evanston
At The Main, we strive to support the small businesses throughout this community we know and love. We appreciate how unique an area we live in, and are so appreciative of small businesses that help our area be what it is: a great place to live.
For more information, or to schedule a tour, call (847) 450-0115 or visit us online.