A cup of community with Backyard Play Café

By Anna Larson

Betsy Brandvik is serious about a few things: community, family, coffee, and being a little extra. The day she sat down with Ladyboss on a video call, she sat in front of balloons from a hot pink monster truck themed birthday party for a 3-year-old.

Parties and play are a normal part of Betsy’s days at the business she started with her husband, Layne. Backyard Play Café in Dickinson, North Dakota, opened in October 2020, and it’s part play space for kids, part party room, and part coffee shop. People can bring their kids for playdates, meet for coffee, or host a party with Backyard Play Café’s balloon installations (that’s where Betsy gets extra).

“I know that what we’re doing is good for our community. I know that we’re providing a place for people where they’re safe, and it’s a friendly place where kids can have a great time,” Betsy says. “Parents might meet another mom, or their kid might meet a friend, and it’s a positive thing. We’re creating that opportunity for those positive interactions every day.”

All the pieces of the café get equal attention—the coffee, too. Betsy’s a self-described coffee snob who values a perfect cup and consistency. She’s also a former teacher and project manager, and mom to four kids ages 2 to 17. Listen in as we chat with Betsy over coffee (Betsy’s favorite? A vanilla latte.) about how Backyard Play Café got its start, why it exists, and what’s next.

Check out Backyard Play Café’s website here.

How did Backyard Play Café come to be?

My career started in project management and then I went into teaching. I was a language arts teacher here in Dickinson for 10 years. My husband (Layne) always wanted to own his own business, and he really, really wanted to do a coffee shop. I was just like there’s no way, there are already like 85 coffee shops in Dickinson. If you want to have a coffee shop, it’s got to be something that really is different with more than one revenue stream.

Every time we’d travel, we would always look for a play cafe or an indoor playground or something for our kids. So, when we were kind of thinking about what kind of business would really bring value to our community, we thought well, what about a play café?

We live in North Dakota. The weather is so sporadic so we thought it’s something that we would utilize as parents with our young children so they could burn off energy.

Why did you want to include a café?

We also wanted to create a place where people could meet up with friends, and parents and grandparents could get a great cup of coffee. We’re kind of coffee snobs. It stinks when you pay $7 for a latte, and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it isn’t. We want it to be good every time.

So that’s how the whole idea came about—wanting to create a place in our community that would be valued and give us the opportunity to be entrepreneurs.

Have you and Layne always been entrepreneurial?

I’ve always had a leadership role in whatever career or position I’ve held. So, entrepreneurship makes a lot of sense for me. My husband really is more of a free spirit. He likes the freedom and flexibility of owning your own business.

You opened during the pandemic. What was that like?

We had already started construction, and when March of 2020 happened, we had to make the decision to go forward or cut our losses. We decided to push forward because we thought OK, people are going to, even more now, need a safe, clean place to go. We decided to push forward, and we’re glad that we did.

Where does your love of community come from?

I always considered myself a city girl—I’m very comfortable in a city, but I love that people know each other in a small community. People help each other. I’m just obsessed with it because when I was a young parent, I didn’t even know my neighbors. Now living in Dickinson, you run into people in the grocery store, and it reminds me a lot of like growing up—how people would look out for each other.

I also just feel like there’s such an opportunity when you are community-focused because there are so many people who are in need, and there are lots of ways that needs can be met.

What’s it like owning a business with your spouse?

We’re here most of the time, and Layne pays the bills, handles repairs and orders and stuff like that where I get to be more creative and think about what our plans are for our next event and day-to-day operations.

What drives you to come to work every day? It’s not easy being a small business owner.

I like when we have a full play day, and you could see people interacting and you can see kids having a great time. I like when I see our business functioning the way I picture it.

I get to be creative. I really like that I have some flexibility. My toddler was sick all last week and I was very fortunate in my staffing I could stay home with him. We’ve worked to set it up so that it can run if I’m not here.

We invested in good people to work with us so that it doesn’t solely rest on our shoulders, which is a huge thing with being a small business. It is so much on your shoulders. Investing in my manager is invaluable, I couldn’t do it without her.

How did you find out about Ladyboss Creative, and why did you reach out?
I have been working hard on marketing, and I don’t come from a marketing background. I feel like I’ve done very well for myself despite not having a marketing background. I’m artistic and I can write well so that works.

With needing to expand and wanting to increase our reach in our community, I asked Layne to find us help. He reached out to Flint, and we met with Jodi (Duncan, Flint’s president). She suggested Ladyboss Creative was a better fit, and I thought it was perfect. It feels personal and high-quality. Small businesses work so hard that any kind of support you get is invaluable.

I was telling Layne this morning that every time I meet with you (Ladyboss Creative), I just feel a confidence boost like I’m doing OK. I’m encouraged and inspired.

Ladyboss Creative is a women-led team of marketing experts who help small businesses and startups level-up their marketing strategy. Learn more about Ladyboss Creative.

What’s next for Backyard Play Café? I know you’re planning a larger space.

We’ve been paying attention to what’s working well for us and where we can grow, like recognizing we need a drive through. We need a bigger party room. We need more space for older kids to be like as successful as we want to be. We’re going to need to expand and invest in that. I’m excited for what we’ve got planned. We’re running on all cylinders here.