Often, while eating out, the joys of parenthood are temporarily diminished. The outing fails to properly serve as the relaxing finish to a long day parents deserve, and the kids seldom enjoy themselves either. It was in this dilemma that international business mogul, seasoned entrepreneur and South Florida resident Jose Luis Bueno saw an opportunity.
“I loved going out to eat with my wife, and when we had kids we started noticing that somebody had to give something up each time we did,” he says. “When we wanted our children to have fun, we had to sacrifice quality, and when we wanted to eat well, they had to give up fun.”
Following two years of extensive demographic research during which more than 3,000 mothers were interviewed, Bueno debuted the first of many Cool de Sac locations in South Miami at the Shops at Sunset Place. Five years later, the globally franchised family entertainment and dining concept continues to grow, with a new location opening at Gulfstream Park on Sep. 21, and franchises sold in Orlando and New York.
“I remember during our first meeting with the architects and interior design team, one of them said to another, ‘this is a children’s place,’” he says. “I just stopped them and said, ‘no, that’s completely wrong, we are not a children’s place – we are a place for parents with children.’ Our principal objective with Cool de Sac was to entertain the parents and provide them with freedom while taking out the kids.”
Cool de Sac’s design keeps kids entertained and intellectually stimulated enough for their parents to leisurely enjoy great gourmet meals long after their youngsters have finished eating their own high-quality dishes. Every activity area is in line with Cool de Sac’s slogan of, “Eat Well, Play Smart.”
The Arts, Blocks, Salon and Discovery areas encourage kids to be constructive and cooperative. The Computer and Lightspace units integrate electronic entertainment, challenging their imaginations and promote physical activity. There is also a Play unit where kids can climb, swing and maneuver through a multitiered jungle gym, a Backstage unit where kids with a flair for the dramatic can put on shows, and a Tots area for toddlers.
“I’ve always tried to have my kids do something that helps them socially or artistically, where they’re sitting down for 30 minutes, creating something,” he says. “I like science games, like when you go to a children’s museums and you see the kids playing with floating balls, magnets and gravity games, staying entertained for just as long as with video games, so we really tried to put some thought into it.”
When they first opened, Bueno sent their menu off to Compufood Analysis, one of the largest nutritional auditors in the U.S. Their findings were negatively surprising, and the menu has since undergone a complete overhaul. Adults can enjoy a variety of gourmet meals, including their signature tuna tartar, chicken avocado Panini and Asian chicken salad. Kids’ dishes have been healthily recreated, such as their 240-calorie macaroni and cheese, which is topped with fresh mozzarella and derives its color naturally from carrot and orange puree rather than the fatty yellow cheese most recipes use.
“It’s really frustrating sometimes going to restaurants, ordering for your kids and not knowing what is in their food, so at Cool de Sac we really put a great emphasis in trying to include healthy items on the menu, especially for kids,” Bueno says.
Employees, who go thorough background checks both before and after being hired, participate in an extensive in-house quality control regimen, cleaning, sanitizing and safety testing all of the equipment and play areas regularly.
Cool de Sac is involved in several charities such as Foster Parenting, South Miami Children’s Hospital and the Miami Children’s Hospital toy drive. They also have an in-store book drive for the Miami Children’s Initiative and Miami Dade College’s “Read to Learn – Books for Free,” which provides bookshelves for kids in places where there is limited library access.