Meet Tracey Stewart, Founder of Moomah Cafe
Tracey Stewart is the mother of two kiddies and the founder of one of the most beloved places in Tribeca, Moomah Cafe. Beautiful, light, open and completely welcoming to families, Moomah is one of our favorite spots in the neighborhood. Walk in and the place will be bustling, yet calm, filled with kids and their parents, as well as other residents and businesspeople, meeting, eating, playing, thinking, connecting. When Tracey announced Moomah would be closing a month ago, people in the neighborhood were devastated (including our 4-year-old daughter who only wanted to know where she would get chocolate croissants!) and thanks to their protest and cries of outrage, Tracey changed her mind and reopened last week. Moomah is not only a reflection of its neighborhood, but also of its founder, who brings the space to life with her warmth, humor, optimism and creativity. Read on to learn more about Tracey as a mom and an entrepreneur, and this very special place.
Where does the name Moomah come from?
Moomah was the name of my security blanket as a child. I wanted Moomah to be a respite for parents, so the name felt just right.
How did you come to open Moomah originally? What were you setting out to do?
I wanted to create a place I would enjoy bringing my kids that wasn’t necessarily a “kids place”. I wanted to create a community space where people of all ages would feel welcome and even soothed after a visit. I love when I can find cafes that feel like a real gathering place for a neighborhood. At their best they are social, nourishing and creative.
Why did you decide to close, and then reopen?
I absolutely loved feeling so connected to my neighborhood, but our old model just wasn’t sustainable. The day-to-day business of running a small café and keeping it afloat can be all consuming. I found myself constantly pulled away from other creative ventures that I also wanted to be able to put some heart into. But when our neighborhood kids starting petitioning and moms were crying, I realized it might be worth trying to figure out a new simpler model that would give our customers what they loved while still allowing for time for other pursuits.
Moomah is such a center of the community, and people were so sad when you announced its closing. What do you think it is about Moomah that struck a cord with people the way it did?
I think we’ve managed to make our place feel like a home away from home for all ages. We were just as happy to mash up a banana for our senior customers as we were for our teething customers. I always feel as though I’m sneaking peeks of really beautiful moments between customers; or parents and children. It really is life affirming.
You are the master of kid crafts activities. What are some of your favorites that parents can do with their kids at home?
I am by no means the master of kids crafts. I would however say that I have really big ideas…I start to try to pull them off…. I get lazy and then I figure out a great way to do the original idea in a much simpler way and so in the end, my projects might turn out a bit janky but my kids and I end up having a lot more fun together.
My favorite crafty activities to do with my kids are the ones I can do laying down, like drawing in their dream journals before bed. If I had to pick my favorite craft to be done in an upright position I would say that it involves inventing new projects with things we have around the house. Projects like glitter shells, shredder paper art and pistachio shell flowers. All of which can be found in my new magazine (knudge knudge wink wink).
Everything in Moomah is handcrafted and natural, but please, tell us what’s your favorite plastic vice.
I’m all for natural, handcrafted, non-poisonous toys but let’s be real my brothas and sistas. My house is loaded with BPA. I love magna-tiles, especially when my kids build with them and the sunlight shines through the different color tiles. I hear angels. And legos. Even though I complain that I am always the one who ends of having to finish them, I love finishing them. I go into a trance. And even though I love the earth very much I CAN NOT eat using a wooden spoon or paper straw. Sorry earth!
And you favorite secret junk food (and it can’t be organic)?
I LOVE Pirate Booty. I have Celiac Disease and it’s gluten-free which seems too good to be true.
We LOVED the food at Moomah. What are your favorite dishes to cook with/for the kids, and any recipes to share?
Hands down I love to make guacamole with the kids. The mashing, the cool pits, the discussion over what to add, how to season and then the resulting yumminess.
I wrote an article in DIT magazine about how to get your kids off the sugar cereals and onto the healthier ones by having them create their own box design, title and recipe. It works like a charm.
You are a big supporter of The Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders. Since every child has anxieties, do you have any basic tips to share when it comes to helping kids and their parents cope with these issues?
It would be extremely difficult and anxiety-producing to have to pick just one. Clearly I’m afflicted. Hell, I’m devoting a whole online magazine to the pursuit of peace of mind. I would say though that as a family we put a lot of focus on relaxation, conversation and appreciation.
What is your most treasured possession?
My family is my most treasured everything.
How do you balance running a business and being a mom?
I don’t. I’m a mess.
What is your ideal Sunday with the kids?
We have wonderful wonderful Sundays because we always do the exact same thing. We stay up late Saturday night so we sleep late Sunday. We make waffles for breakfast. We read the paper, while the kids play on their own (yes, this has finally happened this year for us). We go outside and run around a lot or at least we watch the kids do this. We eat lunch and then crash on our giant couch that fits all four of us and our two dogs (thank you Restoration Hardware). We watch tv and when we’re lucky we all take a late afternoon nap.
And how do you like to unwind without them?
I’m easy. I am truly appreciative whenever I have more than 15 minutes where I can lay on my bed without having to get up to get anyone else anything. Aaah bliss.
What is the activity with kids you least like (my wife tries to avoid a playground)?
I am terrible at playing Barbies. When I was a child I always played “dirty Barbies” so it’s really hard for me to come up with G-rated storylines.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Philadelphia which is why when I’m tired or drunk I drink wudder instead of water. I am very much not an Iggles fan though. Go Giants!
Where do you live now, and what are your favorite kid friendly neighborhood haunts?
I live in Tribeca. I never go above Canal Street so my entire neighborhood has to be my haunt.
What would your last meal be?
This is a dark dark question that makes my mind go to terrible places…mashed potatoes!
Which vice could you NOT live without: coffee or wine?
Coffee. I could be just as happy drinking mojitos.
Favorite kids book?
I would rather talk about how lately whenever I buy a beloved book from my childhood to read to my own kids I can’t believe how scary it is! It’s funny and horrifying all at the same time. I started to read to my daughter from the Little House on the Prairie series and here’s what she got…
“Uncle Henry came to help Pa butcher the hog. He brought Aunt Polly’s sharpened knife. They made a bonfire and heated a big kettle of water over it. The pig pen was nearby. Laura plugged her ears with her fingers because she didn’t want to hear the pig squeal as it was being killed. “After that, Butchering Time was great fun.”
Uncle Henry and Pa were “jolly”. There was spare ribs for dinner. Pa promised the girls they could play with the bladder, which he blew up like a balloon. They played games like volley ball and kick ball with the blown-up bladder. He also gave the girls the pig’s tail, which was roasted, sizzled, fried and sprinkled with salt. They ate all the meat off the bones, knowing there wouldn’t be another pig’s tail until next year.”
I looked up to see my daughter sitting stone still with her eyes wide open in shock. “Keep reading Mama”, she said.
Favorite kids toys?
Magna Tiles. See above.
How do your kids inspire you?
Oh the tears! They are falling just thinking about it. They are better people than me. They see the best in people. They laugh all the time about everything. They run around until they are exhausted and then get right back up and start running again. They read books about animals. They invent magical stories in their heads. They wonder what our dogs are trying to say to them. It’s just endless.