Dining for the sandbox set
Cafe meets playroom at family-focused Bumble
In a world where restaurant patrons cringe at the sight of a toddler and roll their eyes when they are seated near an infant, it was about time for a business like Bumble.
Located in downtown Los Altos, Bumble serves local and organic food in a venue that appears to be more like a children's and parents' wonderland than a restaurant: from the sandbox in the front yard to the 25-foot-long salt-water fish tank bordering the children's playroom.
Mary Heffernan, a Menlo Park native, designed her restaurant and playroom with her own children in mind. Now 34, she has three girls under the age of 5 and one more baby on the way.
"I wanted somewhere where parents could feel a sense of community," she said. "I kind of got into the restaurant part of the business by accident."
At first glance, Bumble looks like a modern cafe. Tables and cushioned benches line the entrance, facing a bar and grill-style kitchen. But venture farther into Bumble, and a whole new world is revealed.
In the back of Bumble, there is a playroom, where parents pay per half-hour for a fully stocked and staffed childcare facility. Grown-ups who need some time to themselves, or just want to sip on a San Francisco brew, can head for the adults-only outdoor patio, which is lined with cabin-in-the-woods-style furniture and heat lamps.
Not only does the playroom provide a staff with child-development degrees, but it is stocked with some of the entertainment world's newest technology: Night Bright. The technology was designed with Bumble in mind and features a virtual forest all along the playroom's back wall. Kids can interact with the forest's animals, trees and glowing butterflies as they move around the room.
Heffernan, who also founded the Menlo Park tutoring center Academic Trainers a decade ago, opened Bumble last year. But getting to opening day was no easy task. Her choice of location was a 100-year-old house, which needed a loving mother of its own. "It was pretty dilapidated," she said. "When we took the windows out to restore them, the whole porch fell down."
But Heffernan persevered through collapsing porches and building regulations. Fourteen months later, Bumble was born with a brand-new white picket fence and a bee-yellow front door.
Beyond its services for families and children, Bumble also serves locally grown and raised organic food. "It's quite a challenge," Heffernan said, since the menu is constantly changing to provide customers with the best seasonal ingredients.
Some highlights are the Bumble Burger, which is topped with bacon marmalade, and the fresh salads. "The quinoa salad has like a cult following," Heffernan said, laughing.
Of course, the honey is always in fresh supply from Golden Harvest Beekeeping in Redwood City.
Bumble's executive chef, Marc Frias, said his dishes are inspired in part by his family and friends. "I am open to listening and talking about my food," he said. "I get some great ideas just listening to what people like and don't like. Then I take those ideas and put my twist on them."
Frias said his flavors are always changing, but that currently his favorite dish is the linguini pasta tossed with garlic, tomatoes and arugula. "It is super simple and just clean flavor," he said.
With a constantly changing menu and a devotion to local and organic foods, one thing Bumble cannot provide is a bargain meal.
"Our prices are probably not the cheapest in town," Heffernan said. "But people who understand the value of (locally sourced organic food) will (go) for it. It's like night and day."
Though Bumble has barely been open for a year, Heffernan said it already feels like a local joint. "I love the community feel," she said. "At least half of the people who walk in the door we know on a first-name basis."
And she has already started expanding. Soon, Heffernan will be opening an arcade next door to Bumble. Area 151 will be a place where older kids can blow off some steam with classic arcade games along with some high-end technologies.
Bumble also hosts events, including birthday parties and corporate gatherings.
"We've done some really fun events," Heffernan said, recalling a conversation she had with one customer after a party at Bumble. "They said, 'This is the most fun party we've ever had, and I thought this was a kids' place!'"
Frias said he too benefits from the family-friendly atmosphere. "I get the feeling that I am cooking for my friends and family and that takes so much pressure off me that I can just create, or, as I always say, play."
Bumble Los Altos
145 First St., Los Altos
Hours: Daily 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Playroom: 9 a.m.-8 p.m.