Ask Shannon Payette Seip what it's like to eat out with small children, and she starts to laugh. A journalist in Madison, Wis., Shannon was dining out with her family at a restaurant she was reviewing for the local paper when her two toddlers pulled the entire window treatment down. "We didn't go out again for nearly a year!" she says.
Finding a restaurant where the whole family can have fun—without fear of falling fixtures—is one thing. Finding a place that serves good, healthy food that parents and kids both like is another. That's why Shannon and her business partner, Kelly Parthen, decided to open Bean Sprouts, a hip, kid-friendly restaurant that dishes up Pink Patootie fruit smoothies, whole-wheat veggie wraps, turkey Bunchkin Burgers and more—all in a relaxed setting that adults can enjoy, too. "We wanted to create a place where parents don't have to say 'no, no, no,' all the time," Shannon says.
The idea, well, sprouted over time. While she's long held an interest in healthy living, Shannon says her passion became even more personal after her two kids came along. "When my son Isaac was born, I felt a huge responsibility to make sure everything going into his little body was good for him," she recalls. "He was like this blank canvas, and I didn't want to mess him up." Later, when she and her husband, Roger, went to Africa to adopt their second son, Bini, Shannon had another epiphany: If babies in Ethiopia eat Ethiopian food, why can't babies at home eat different flavors, too?
"Not everything has to be bland," Shannon says. Helping children expand their palates not only provides better nutrition for them but makes life easier for Mom and Dad.
That's why Bean Sprouts encourages its pint-sized customers to try new tastes: The menu's organic baby food comes in flavors like savory dahl or sweet potatoes with rosemary, and edamame (steamed soybeans) is a popular finger food. Cooking classes for budding chefs age two and older stir up more culinary creations. "When kids feel ownership over something, they're more likely to try it," Shannon explains.
Shannon's had to learn about ownership as well. Before Bean Sprouts opened in 2007, she applied for a small business development grant and worked with a mentor on a business plan. She and Kelly teamed up with contractors and designers to give Bean Sprouts special touches, like a kid-sized door and a special step at the counter so youngsters can order for themselves. By a stroke of luck, Gale Gand, the well-known chef and Food Network host, offered to help plan the basic menu, which helped secure the cafe's funding. "It's amazing how many people are really excited and willing to help if you ask them," Shannon says.
These days Shannon works overtime as manager, party planner, head Bitty Baker and more. Plus, she's currently supporting her book with illustrator Adrienne Hedger, Momneisa: A Humorous Guide to Surviving Your Post-Baby Brain. To keep her energy up, she works out several times a week ("It's the only time I have for myself," she says.) While she admits her schedule is sometimes draining, Shannon says Bean Sprouts provides a delicious reward: "It's satisfying to see kids eating healthy food, and parents actually able to finish a meal."
Pick Your Mix
Stash these snack mixes from Shannon and Kelly's forthcoming cookbook, Bean Appetit, in your kids' lunches (or your own!). With just three ingredients, each combo is a snap to make. Or, as Shannon suggests, encourage your kids to invent their own.
Apple Pie a la Mode
Dried apples + cinnamon graham sticks + vanilla-covered raisins
Dried blueberries + dried cherries + frosted shredded wheat cereal
Peanuts + dried banana chips + carob chips