Welcome to “Cafetinos”: The LES’s Best New Restaurant

By Manny Cantor Center | In Archive | on June 20, 2019

On May 23rd, families and friends of the 3 and 4-year-old children in Classroom 308 were invited to the opening of a restaurant. “Cafetinos” was a full-service pop-up cafe inside their classroom created and staffed by the children as a celebration of their months-long exploration of food, restaurants, and community.

Cafetinos was born in Classroom 308 out of a reimagining of the dramatic play multipurpose area of the classroom. This space has looked like a lot of different things, but as the children became more interested in food and cooking, the teachers adapted the space to meet their needs.

Four-year-old Eleanor came up with the name, inviting the teachers to a café. When they asked her what it was called, she answered immediately, “Cafetinos.”

As the children’s interest in cooking grew, they brought in recipes from home that they would all make together, bringing their dramatic play into reality. They came up with their own menu, dishes and prices. Even so, there was an inherent generosity in their play—instead of asking for money, they would serve the teachers or friends and wait to see if they liked it before starting to cook another dish. This dramatic play served as an exercise in sharing—food, utensils, a table. Their play became about building community through food.

The children started wondering about restaurants and had the opportunity to see a real restaurant kitchen. They noticed the things “Cafetinos” didn’t have, such as a table, utensils, and a shelf to hang up cooking supplies. Then, they went to a restaurant supply store as a class to pick up the things they were missing in order to look like a real restaurant.

As they planned the grand opening of Cafetinos, they practiced recipes, as well as serving and greeting. They made tablecloths, menus, and centerpieces themselves, and created a symbol for Cafetinos.

On the day of the grand opening, every child’s family joined in the celebration. The children served their grown-ups and often fed them. The food went quickly—the kale chips, although a last-minute addition to the menu, were the most popular item.


“Cafetinos was a real restaurant. I cooked.” –Yahir

“I like EVERYTHING about Cafetinos!” – Odin, Eleanor and Yahir

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