A parent-friendly organic cafe that makes eating local a pleasure.
After Danielle Pastore gave birth to her daughter, she dreamed of a “sit-down” restaurant where she could bring the whole family to eat fresh, organic, well-prepared food without having to worry about her baby disturbing other diners. When she was unable to find such an establishment nearby, Pastore opened Sweet Peas Café in Dunedin, FL.
Pastore works hard to create a “parent-friendly” environment at Sweet Peas: “This a community-oriented café, and we cater to parents with small children. A lot of places are family-friendly but not necessarily [fun for] parents.”
The café has accommodations to help parents unwind while at the restaurant, such as sturdy diaper tables, family-sized bathrooms, stress-relieving teas, and the kind of healthy but still-delicious food parents would serve at home. The music inside the restaurant is not only inviting for the children but pleasant for their parents.
Pastore designs her menu to appeal to both adults and children, offering organic, health-conscious options like peanut butter, fruit, and honey sandwiches; organic and gluten-free pancakes with fresh fruit or chocolate chips; a BKT or bacon, kale, and tomato sandwich; and plain flatbreads with housemade tomato sauce and home-grown fresh basil. 85 percent of the menu is organic, and all menu items can be made vegetarian or gluten-free. The cafe also offers organic wine, local beer, fair trade coffee and tea, fresh juices, and more.
Part of the café’s whole-family appeal is the outdoor dining area. It has a 10,000-square-foot enclosed yard surrounded by a certified North American Butterfly Association garden, which Pastore planted herself with native plants that naturally attract butterflies.
The yard also contains a playground with a pirate ship, sandbox, and playhouse, as well as an organic vegetable garden where some of the food the restaurant serves is grown— and which is fertilized with compost from the restaurant’s organic waste. Parents can watch their children play while they finish eating. Pastore says there can be as many as 60 children at Sweet Peas Café at a time.
“Nobody’s screaming, nobody’s crying, nobody’s fighting. Everybody’s just having a relaxed time together,” she says.
The social yet calming atmosphere makes the café the perfect place for community and private events. Sweet Peas Café hosts birthday parties, CPR classes, live music, drum circles, meditation classes, family yoga, and special events such as book signings with local authors or meet-and-greets with local law enforcement officers and firefighters.
Once a month, the café hosts a “Shop & Storytime Day” where people with home-based businesses set up booths in the yard, which is across the street from a local farmer’s market. Participants sell homemade clothes, pillows, eco-friendly dryer balls, and other items, and parents can leave their kids at the Sweet Peas storytime event while they shop.
Sweet Peas Café has five employees, in addition to Pastore. Each employee earns a living wage, which in Pinellas County where Dunedin is located is $10.54 per hour for one adult.
In 2015, Sweet Peas Café, along with two other businesses, won Green America’s Winter People & Planet Award. The award which is given out every quarter to three small US businesses that “deeply integrate social and environmental considerations into their strategies and operations.” Each People & Planet Award has a different theme related to sustainability. Sweet Peas Café won for promoting “green celebrations”, because of the way it incorporates social and environmental considerations into its catering and event services. Pastore put her $5,000 prize money toward building the on-site organic garden, buying tools and tables, and hiring extra labor, along with other small projects.
Pastore has worked to weave Sweet Peas Café deeply into the fabric of the community, and she says she loves seeing how much customers appreciate the café. She says she has seen people who met while at the café form friendships, fall in love, and get engaged. But the people Pastore most enjoys pleasing are the parents who come through her doors.
“It’s difficult to go out with little kids,” she says. “It’s difficult to keep them in their seats eating for 45 minutes. Here you can stay as long as you want. They can run around and play. Parents can have a conversation uninterrupted. That makes everyone happy.”