Local Mompreneur Feature: Heather Hays of The Palm Tree Playground

I first heard about the Palm Tree Playground this past year at NOLA Baby and Child Fest. Heather, mom to two little girls ages five and three, was at the event passing out flyers and getting the word out about her upcoming opening. As a new mom, I was excited about the prospect of having an indoor playground to visit on rainy days but beyond that I must confess that I was also intrigued and inspired by Heather herself. I wondered what prompted the opening of the playground, how beingFunny Family Shot a great mom and a successful entrepreneur happens simultaneously, and what that kind of life this would even look like. I really am truly captivated by the idea that we can “have it all” as mothers!

Imagine my surprise when through this interview I found out that Heather is working on writing a book called Professional Authenticity. The premise of this writing project is to inspire women through the success stories of other professional women and to learn from other women how and why they made the choices at the very juncture that would lead them on the path to success and happiness. Heather was kind enough to indulge my questions and share with us more about her business, family life and how she is handling it all!

What prompted you to want to open an indoor playground for children?

A very rainy day in Portland prompted me to open Palm Tree Playground. Eric took a job on a television show in Portland, Oregon called Leverage when Madison was two and a half and McKenzie was four months old. It rained for six months straight and I had no friends with children there, which meant I had no outlet! I heard about a little business called “Play Boutique” which had a preschool and toddler play area opened to the public two afternoons per week. I would plan my entire day around those two hours of playtime they offered. They were the highlight of my week. One day they brought in a pot of fresh coffee from the business next door and I called my husband to say if we ever moved to one place we would open something similar because it was the perfect solution for me that day and felt like a life saver.

If you could have dinner with any New Orleans celebrity who would it be and why?

I would love to have dinner with Jane Scott, the founder of Leontine Linens. I am obsessed with linen and I love her signature style. I think this would be a fun meal.

Did you ever doubt your decision to open the business?

Yes, for personal reasons. Up to the point we opened Palm Tree Playground, I was a stay at home mom. The first weekend of birthday parties I was gone 12 hours a day, and when I drove home the first night I cried the whole way. I just missed my family so much. There is a song I sing to my older daughter at night that lists all the things we do each day and I couldn’t sing it to her because I didn’t know all the details of her day and I was heart broken. On a professional level it has been a dream job come true, though, and each day gets easier. Soon enough I will be back with my family on weekends, so I am trying to remember the big picture.

Starbucks, PJ’s, or Community?

Iced Southern Pecan from PJ’s, Vanilla Spice from Starbucks, Mocha from Community and Vanilla Almond milk latte from Whole Foods. I spend what would be my clothing budget on coffee.

Have you owned a business before, or is this your first business venture?

I am a serial entrepreneur and therefore even though this is my first business as an owner of an incorporated company it is not my first venture. I was a real estate broker in California and before that had years of experience managing a retail business operation that gave me the skills and training to run the day to day business of Palm Tree Playground.

When you have a sitter I am most likely to find you…

[Getting] Sushi with my husband.

If you had to start over again what would you do differently?

We plan to open another location within the year, and I have a whole list of things I would do differently! The build out process was a Palm Tree Playgroundhuge learning experience from the permitting standpoint.  In all the research we did for our business plan, we could have never anticipated the hurdles we would experience while obtaining our permits.  I am happy with the end product so it was worth it but I hope to make location number two easier on us.

Swanky martini bar, dark dive bar, or wine at home?

Wine at home for sure.

How do you find balance in your life?

I am still working on that. Balance is hard right now because everything is so new. My husband is amazing and since I am working everyday, he is doing laundry and grocery shopping on the weekends. I pick the girls up from school and don’t go back to work in the afternoons. Therefore I trust my manager to handle everything at work. I am very blessed to have a great team and I rely on them heavily because being a mom is still my number one priority. One thing we are working on diligently is to set up all of our systems in our business that are easy to implement and follow so our team feels empowered when they perform tasks.

What is the one thing you use every day that makes you feel pretty or put together?

I put on a little makeup right before I get out of my car and I always put on my Jo Malone perfume in the morning. Someone once told me every woman needs a signature scent!

As a Mother in the age of Pinterest, do you feel pressure to be Super Mom and do it all?

That is a great question. Here is my honest answer – I used to feel pressure but have released myself of that. We are all good at different things. Some moms are crafty, others are athletic, one of my friends excels at math, etc. If you truly enjoy replicating the Pinterest idea and it brings you joy, I believe it is worth it.  However if it stresses you out, forget about it!

If yes, how do you combat this?

At the end of the day I think about what impacts my girls the most. If I am going to be a crazy mommy trying to make something look good, it won’t be fun for anyone in our family. Therefore, I look for the easy ideas. For instance, last Memorial Day we brought a fruit salad to school which had watermelon cut into stars that I had seen on Pinterest. To achieve the look myself and keep it family-friendly, I sliced the watermelon myself and then let me five-year-old cut out the stars out with a cookie cutter. Then we threw in strawberries and blueberries.  Voila – I copied Pinterest, it looked cute, and it was easy!

What do you think the biggest challenge is for Mothers today?

There is so much information out there today that I sometimes forget to follow my instincts and I try to join the bandwagon. It is exhausting! During my first pregnancy I read EIGHT sleep- training books. About six months into parenting and another sleepless night, my husband and I had some friends over who were expecting their first baby. During a
particular conversation regarding sleep, he and I looked at each other half laughing and half crying and walked over to our bookshelf, pulled those eight books off down, and gave them to our friends hoping the strategiesFavorite Mom Shot edit would work better for them than they did for us.

Do you have a favorite Mom tool? A secret Mom weapon?

My mom, sister and my girlfriends! I know just who to call depending on the situation. If that doesn’t work I find a good piece of chocolate and wait for the storm to pass.

Can you map out what a typical day in your shoes looks like?

Drop the girls off at school by 8:00 a.m. after a wild time of getting out of the house and driving from Uptown to Metairie in a timely fashion. Work from 8:30-2:30. Pick up the girls and do something fun like ballet. Dinner, bath, bed routine until 8:30. Housework and more “work, work” until about 10:00. Then I do a short daily Bible study and then watch something fun on television to unwind before bed!

Do you read blogs? If yes: What are your favorite blogs and why do you read them?

For parenting blogs I stay local to New Orleans because it is such an education on where to go now with your kids. For instance last fall you had that fun pumpkin patch outing that looked amazing. That’s the stuff I want to know about! I also enjoy the New Orleans Moms Blog because it is so rich with content.

One of my passions is interior design and blogs are a great way to get my fill. For children’s interiors, I love Nursery Notations. It is written by a very talented friend of mine, Andrika King, who is a lovely person, wonderful mother and excellent designer. House of Turquoise, Velvet & LinenPawleys Island Posh, Caitlin Creer and A Beach Cottage are just a few of my other favorites.

What has been the most gratifying moment you have had since you opened the playground?

Being hugged after birthday parties by the party mom.

How is your life different than what you pictu1996 Heather at 19red it would be when you were 19?

I thought I would be a famous actress but everything else is pretty much how I had hoped.  I always dreamed of being married with kids: that was my idea of a happy life.

What does your perfect day look like?

Well, aside from a day on a tropical vacation… Waking up before anyone in my family and walking down the street for a coffee. Then breakfast for the kids and off to the gym (where is that place again?). I love summer, so then I would say we would go swim for the day. Then head home for an early bath, dinner and quick princess movie before heading out on a date night with my husband where sushi and a good bottle of wine are involved.

Share a secret with us!

I met my husband because I wanted to be an actress, and my debut is in the movie “Dark Blue” where I flirted with Scott Speedman and said the famous line “call me.”  That was a truly fun day!



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