Playgrounds Fun Zone & Café: Where Kids Love to Play, and Parents Want to Stay

By Marina DeWit, Region 9 Advocate

As a district manager for a large corporation, James Bernau was spending a lot of time away from his family in Phoenix, AZ and wanted a change. His dream was to own a business where his creativity and his joy of cooking could be integrated, while also staying close to his wife and daughters. During a family vacation eight years ago in Ventura, CA, the Bernaus visited an indoor play place with their toddlers that inspired a business idea. In October 2011, Mr. Bernau opened Playgrounds Fun Zone & Café in Peoria, AZ, “where kids love to play, and parents want to stay.” The 3,500-square-foot indoor play space is designed for children under 10 years of age to explore, climb, crawl, and slide among colorful characters. There is an area designated for toddlers that has similar obstacles but on a much smaller scale for their safety. It is a great place to host a birthday party or a special event thanks to a full-scale café serving gourmet coffee, pastries, sandwiches, salads, fresh baked cookies, and ice cream. The city of Peoria is the fastest growing city in Arizona, and, with the overwhelming heat of the desert summers, the indoor play place for young children is in high demand.

Since the opening of Playgrounds Fun Zone & Café, many internal structural changes have been made to accommodate the increased number of visitors and their desire for a larger space. About one year ago, Mr. Bernau opened an additional 4,000-square-foot facility, Playgrounds Dart Zone, in the same building; the new facility attracts older children and adults to play games with nerf guns, archery, and dodge ball. Additionally, he is offering a mobile party package that can bring a dart arena to any place, whether it is a park, school or community center.

Inside Playgrounds Fun Zone & Café
Advocate Marina DeWit discusses regulatory issues with owner of Playgrounds Fun Zone & Café, James Bernau.

In seven years, the business has grown to 19 employees with an average age of 21. In hiring young adults, Mr. Bernau’s biggest issue is the constant change of his staff. He said that he can’t compete with big stores that offer benefit packages to their employees. Based on his calculations, new employee training is nearly a $750 investment. If the employee leaves after a short term, it is a significant financial loss to Mr. Bernau that happens on average once every other month.

Mr. Bernau has plans to open another Playgrounds location in a 10,000-square-foot commercial warehouse facility where he can combine his ideas of Playgrounds Fun Zone, Playgrounds Dart Zone, and Café all in one space, making it a destination place for family entertainment. With that growth in mind, he will be hiring more people and is concerned with the changes that will occur in the business once he reaches 50 employees and has to comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well as Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  With the success of the business and its growing demand in the community, Mr. Bernau is concerned that the cost associated with the growth of Playgrounds will affect the commitment of his employees.

Marina DeWit serves as the Region 9 Advocate for the SBA Office of Advocacy, representing small businesses in Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. DeWit works with small business owners, state and local governments, and small business associations to bring the voice of Region 9 to Washington DC. She can be reached at