Some parents make it look effortless, but for most, taking toddlers out to eat can be chaotic. Factor in spilled drinks, dropped silverware, short attention spans and brewing tantrums, and the entire experience can be unpleasant for parents and other diners alike.
Laura Brewer and her daughter Amber know they aren’t the only ones who’ve experienced the waning patience and “been there” nods from other guests while eating out with children.
That’s why the Flanders women invented a practical solution they say could help families enjoy dining together.
“We eat out a lot,” Laura said, and is frequently joined by another daughter, Ashley, her son-in-law and 2-year-old granddaughter Mya. “They could not enjoy a meal at all.”
Research on similar products proved fruitless, so Laura teamed up with Amber to brainstorm some ideas. “Once we had an idea of what we wanted, we jumped on it,” said Amber, 23.
Suddenly, they were meeting with lawyers, filing for patents and working with Design Edge, a Bethpage development firm that helped create a schematic drawing and prototype of their product, dubbed the EatNPlay Tiny Tray.
Developed by the mother-daughter team, the adjustable polypropylene plastic tray can clamp onto tables of varying thicknesses. It comes with a hook that can be used to attach toys and two raised bars that can hold a phone or tablet and prevent leaks and spills. And it all fits into a diaper bag.
“We’re coming up with revisions,” Amber said, to the prototype, like padding the plastic bar and adding rubber to the clamps to prevent damage to tables.
Mya and a cousin, 7-year-old Amara, were the first to try out the tray. “You can use it for a younger age or older ages,” Amber said, noting that during a recent family dinner, they attached a package of colored pencils for Amara instead of a toy.
With their newly minted patent, the duo is gearing up to enter a critical development stage that they hope will land their product in the homes of many new families.
The women plan to launch a campaign on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform that help brings creative projects to life, in November. Their goal is $50,000.
“It’s tough because if you don’t reach that goal, you don’t get any of the funds,” Amber said.
The tray, which will be manufactured in China, requires an injection mold — and that alone costs $17,000, Amber said. The remaining money will help pay for shipping and packaging.
“We’re not salespeople, so we’re trying to put ourselves out there,” Laura said, adding that they’re using social media and promotional marketing videos to spread the word about the upcoming campaign. Binge-watching “Shark Tank” gave them a few ideas.
“We heard about [Kickstarter] on ‘Shark Tank,’ ” Laura said, laughing.
If they reach their goal, they expect to manufacture around 3,300 trays, both pink and blue, that will retail for $29.99.
It would mean “everything,” to them, Amber said.
Mother and daughter both work at Peconic Bay Medical Center, where Laura is a housekeeper and Amber is a transporter. Before inventing the EatNPlay Tiny Tray, they would daydream constantly about potential business ventures.
“We wanted to do a project together. We were constantly for a year thinking about what we were going to do,” Laura said. The ideas ranged from opening a deli to starting a day care center.
Their shared love of children is what led them to where they are. “We’re hoping to help parents be able to enjoy a meal. Because going out to eat with a child can be hard,” Amber said.
Hearing herself referred to as an inventor is emotional for Laura, 50, as it reminds her of her late father, Arthur Schumpf.
“He wanted to be an inventor. I remember being in the living room and all you would hear is ‘Honey! I have an invention!,’ ” she recalled. “But he never had any money.”
If he could see her patent and prototype, Laura knows he’d be proud.
The team agrees that the adventure so far has been “remarkable,” and has pushed them far outside their comfort zone. “I’m scared to death,” Laura admits. “But you have to take that chance.”
The Kickstarter campaign for the EatNPlay Tiny Tray launches Nov. 1. To keep up with their progress, follow them on Facebook at facebook.com/MyLittleBInc.
Photo caption: Amara Schumpf, 7, uses a prototype of the EatNPlay Tiny Tray, developed by her grandmother and aunt, Laura and Amber Brewer. (Donna Wish photo)