Some big changes are under way at the café in the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, 1805 N. 30th St. Come mid-March, it will be re-branded Bean Sprouts - a hip & healthy café.

If you've heard the name, that's because 12 of these kid-focused cafés already opened around the country. This will be the first in Colorado. The café's goal is to spark kids' appetites for yummy, good-for-you food and delight grown-ups with a happier mealtime. The food has no artificial flavors or colors, no preservatives, no antibiotics and is allergy-friendly.

Bean Sprouts is the brainchild of two former college pals, now business partners Kelly Parthen and Shannon Payette Seip. The idea evolved from letting their children play with vegetables and lean meats to make fun dishes such as "Flutter Bite," which look like butterflies, and "The Do-Re-Foe-Me," finger sandwhiches made to resemble piano keys.

"When we started our families, we got interested in ways to help our children make better food choices," said Parthen, who lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and two children. "Children's tastes develop before they are 5 years old. Shannon and I thought if we made food playful and let them cook with us, they would have more fun and be better eaters of fruits and vegetables. The goal was to have them try new tastes."

That was in 2005. The moms thought they were onto something. They started doing research and found other young mothers struggling with the same dilemma: how to get their kids to make better food choices.

"We thought a guilt-free place for kids to eat, like a fun café, with plenty of yummy adult options and gourmet coffee would make a great business plan," Parthen said.

They worked with Chicago-based, award-winning celebrity chef Gale Gand to help with recipe and menu development. Then in 2007, "We opened our first restaurant, Bean Sprouts, in Middleton, Wis., where we both lived at the time."

The eatery was a hit with kids and parents, and more cafés were born. They are housed in family-friendly locations such as zoos, children's museums and amusement parks. Six of the cafés are in California (Seip's state), two in Pennsylvania, one each in Milwaukee, Illinois and Ohio. The restaurants have been very successful, winning awards such as Best Food Allergy Innovation for Restaurants at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago.

And four years after the first café opened, the pair co-wrote "Bean Appétit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun with Food."

With Parthen making her home in Colorado Springs, she and Seip have kept an eye out for a spot here to open a Bean Sprouts café.

"We had been looking for a place where families gather," Parthen said. "But until we talked to the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, we had not found a good fit. We are super excited."

Renovations to the original café at the visitor center are underway.

"We are hoping to be open before school spring breaks," she said.

The menu features gourmet coffees and teas - think lattes, mochas, cappuccino and chai. The kids' menu, called Imaginibbles, features dishes made into fun shapes such as the Flutter Bite with turkey, cheddar, mayo and veggies; and the Crocamole with avocado, hummus and veggie dippers. Parents get such choices as Tuna Dillight with dill tuna salad, cucumbers, tomatoes and organic greens; and Mona Cheesa with melty mozzarella and feta, spinach, artichokes and pesto. There are also soups, salads, pizza, snacks and smoothies.

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Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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