A couple days ago, I reviewed our birthday party experience at Odyssey Play Place in Palatine. I also had a chance to chat with the adorable owners, Leena and Jario, and I absolutely love their story. I believe you will too. In fact, after learning more about them I have to say I appreciate Odyssey Play Place even more.

Q: How you got into the business?

Leena: Well my husband is a former Youth Pastor and Drama Club Instructor and I was a Kindergarten Teacher, Early Learner Interventionist and Dance Instructor. We’ve both always loved working with kids! The last couple of years, my husband actually stayed home as a full-time caregiver for my mom and was also a stay-at-home dad “Mr. Mom” to our busy toddler Mirelle while I was teaching. He says he found himself going to McDonald’s way too often just to give our daughter a place to get out and play. One day, we went to our very first play place ever- Explore and Much More – in Chicago. We had actually never even heard of an “indoor play place” until that day in March of 2015. It turns out, they’re all over the city!! But there are few in the suburbs- it’s a newer concept out here. We instantly fell in love with the concept- the idea of providing a community play space that families can go to play together with their children and make fun memories. On our drive home from the city, we looked at each other and both said “We should start one!” It’s actually pretty crazy- but we went for it! The timing was perfect too as I didn’t want to go back to teaching full time with #2 coming soon and we had to figure out what we would do. So it just all made sense. We would work together with our kids! So we began to create our own vision of what our play place would look and feel like. And we opened doors a year later at the end of March 2016!

Q: How is Odyssey Play Place different from the others?

Leena: Creating a “learning environment” has always been one of my core values as a teacher, so we put a lot of thought into all of our little play nooks, the decor, the colors, the quality of toys. We wanted to create a sensory and hands-on creative play space for little ones. One that felt like home with soft carpet for kids to safely play and a comfy couch for grown ups to relax on.  We believe that kids learn through play and our engaging, whimsical, playful yet calm environment supports this. We also love that parents can be by their child’s side playing and making discoveries together with them. The quote “May all who enter as guests leave as friends.” certainly applies to our vision of building community together at Odyssey Play Place. We love to meet new families and get to know the kids and parents alike!

Q: What inspires you?

Leena: I have to give credit to my mom for our unique homemade parties and love for party planning! One of my favorite childhood memories growing up was the birthday parties my mom had for me! She’d make different party hats each year, table decor & favors, games and crafts and themes each year! She was an interior designer and decorator and my parties were truly special! Most of all I felt her heart and love put into each detail- and that’s what we try to provide our customers with! Unfortunately, my mom passed away this year in August but I am so happy that she got to see us open Odyssey and be a part of our son’s 1st Birthday which was a Teddy Bear Picnic theme in memory of my dad who loved bears. It’s an honor that I can pass on our family traditions into our own family business- passing on her joy and love for children.

Q: How did you come up with the name Odyssey?

Leena: Odyssey is Homer’s epic poem about Odysseus’ journey home and how life is full of twists and turns. We all have our own unique story and life journey. At Odyssey we want to create that “Home away from home” – a place families can sail to for community, for friendships, for relaxation and quality time with their little one. A place new parents can meet other new parents and share about their new found experiences together. Becoming a parent changes things and is a unique Odyssey in itself! Odyssey Play Place to us is more than a play space and party venue- it’s also a community.

Q: Favorite part of Odyssey?

Leena: It’s hard to pick! Definitely seeing smiles on kids’ faces! Seeing them engage in play and make new discoveries! We’ve been able to be a part of many “firsts”- “sitting up”, “steps”, “participating in a class”, “birthday cake smash”, “meeting a Princess or Superhero”, “meeting Santa”, “mom’s first outing after baby,” “new dad falling asleep in our comfy reading tent holding his newborn”… lol. It’s been so much fun watching some of our youngest customers grow and develop. We love engaging with everyone- my husband is the “Play Specialist” while I’m the “Teacher”. Together we make a pretty great team and have some fun filled storytimes for kids! We love meeting people- meeting other local families with little ones. We love being a place where families can make great memories in! Which brings me to Parties- our other FAVORITE part!! We love Birthday Parties! It’s so much fun to take the family’s vision for their child’s special day and make it come to life! We LOVE to pick out decor, down to the tiniest detail- we make a lot of things ourselves. We take pride in what we do and want to make each party unique and special- a day to remember! We want to make it relaxing and enjoyable for parents. It’s so much fun seeing the smiles of friends and family while the Birthday Child blows out the candles. It’s an honor to be a part of that day.

Q: What is your favorite party that you’ve hosted?

Leena: Our favorite parties are definitely the ones where we get to go all out on the decor and activities! One mom came to me and said my daughter’s name is “Zoe” so I’d like to do a “Zoe Zebra” theme with gold, black and white. I loved this! She gave me a vision and then we could dive right in and make it happen!

Other times, we give ideas to families and they pick their favorite. We love being able to personalize parties to any theme that families imagine. We like to create elegant children’s parties- “Pinterest” and “Etsy” like. We love parties with activities where we get to do a personalized storytime or play games or dance with bubbles! We also love First Birthdays- where we get to decorate the high chair and be a part of their cake smash! I guess if I had to chose- my two favorite parties so far- would be our own kids’ parties! Our son’s “Teddy Bear Picnic” 1st Birthday was our first “Etsy” party. We had a cute photo area where our son sat in a picnic basket surrounded by teddy bears! It had a rustic, child’s picnic theme and we played this super cute Korean traditional game “Doljabi”. And our daughter’s “Fairy Tea Party” 5th Birthday! Every girl got to dress up in a tutu, wings and flower headband! They painted fairy houses, got fairy facepaint and learned a fairy ballet! Each cupcake was served in a little teacup. I had dreamed about this party for months and am so happy with how it turned out! I do have to say that I also love our Frozen and Superhero Party themes! We definitely take these favorites to a whole new level!

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