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FrogLegs Culinary Academy

Too much fun for everyone

Food and cooking are universal. We all eat, right? It brings us together, but hey, shouldn't it be fun, too? Laura Vida, Mrs. FrogLegs to you, thinks so.

Mrs. FrogLegs is a lesson to us all in deciding on a path and heading down it no matter what the obstacles. Of course, the path can change directions, and that's part of the adventure. In early 2008, with her third child out of preschool, she wanted to do something creative. She and husband Bob had the 'gathering spot' house. Laura knew just what she wanted to do-start a preschool! With her husband's "Absolutely not!" ringing in her ears, she talked to a group of friends, explaining her idea of a preschool with a focus on cooking. Her good friend Flora said, "Why don't you start a cooking school for kids?"

FrogLegs Culinary Academy began in their house with birthday and after-school parties in 2007. Cooking classes were added. This went on for 10 years. "We were outgrowing the house. I knew if I opened a commercial spot, I would open four. I could see it as a national brand, but I'd whisper that. Now I say it out loud. Our Kirkland location opened in 2016 with a retail component, and we limited what we did in the house. Like Disneyland, I want this to be the happiest place on earth. We did well from the get-go. Wanting to move the business completely out of the house, I looked at spaces around University Village, not in it. A real estate agent mentioned it to the Village leasing people and they had us in for a meeting in September 2017. They liked that it was an experiential business model. We're in a corner space near the kids' playground that allows us to keep the kitchens and retail space separate."

The retail portion of the new space, aka "Mrs. FrogLegs Treat Mercantile," is full of fun things like chocolate chip cookie and pretzel pillows, ice cream soda glasses, party supplies, dog treats, freshly-baked cookies and edible cookie dough (no eggs, not so much sugar but plenty of butter and cream) and more. If you need to keep space between yourself and temptations, you can order at the "treat window" outside. Laura designed the cooking school kitchens to have a bistro-like feel, while the retail is bright and light. She found a company that makes retro kitchen equipment and uses turquoise and green throughout. With two kitchens in the new space, they're able to hold classes and do parties, plus expand the number of adult classes. "In Kirkland, our adult classes were more team building and parties. Now we've updated our website with a list of adult classes along with kids' classes, and do kids and adults together." On Mother's Day, they made cupcakes, quiche, and decorated a cake to take home. On Father's Day, they made turkey burgers, curley fries, milkshakes and took home cupcakes that look like hamburgers, known in baking challenge shows as "food imposters."

Tiffany Lewis (Director of Business Development and creator of cooke and edible cookie doug recipes), left, and Laura Vida "Mrs. FrogLegs"

Kids' classes are more than just cooking. Their Storybook Camp (ages 3-6) in the mornings are based on authors, i.e., for Dr. Seuss, they make green eggs and ham. For Willy Wonka Camp, they make lunch, a snack, and a drink and work with a different chocolate each week. Later afternoon classes for older kids might be about European baking or food trucks. They're looking at doing drop-in cake and cupcake decorating classes a few times a week that would last about an hour and give kids a kit to work with. They're considering an adult spotlight series where they bring in a well-known outside instructor.

"We hire kids' instructors on personality. We have stage names like Miss Firefly, Miss Rosebud, Miss Cookie. I want them to stay in character. They have full authority to have fun. We sing, we use whisks as microphones, talk in accents." While having fun, they educate. They count in different languages, learn measurements, wait to eat until everyone is served, keep napkins in laps, etc. "It's part of what sets us apart. We stress education and entertainment and work at being a happy place. We want to engage all the senses. Cooking is for all kids and if we give them a sense of confidence, they'll take it through their lives."

Pillows and more!

Laura grew up in the Midwest with three sisters; she liked to cook and spent time in the kitchen with her mom. One summer while in college she worked at Glacier National Park. The next, she worked at Mt. Hood. Deciding to work for Starbucks, she gave them the full court press. She stayed seven years, starting as a barista and jumping at every chance to help in the corporate office. Her favorite job was helping the food buyer, eventually becoming her assistant, then taking the job when the buyer left. She then moved to Caribou Coffee, traveling to Minnesota. But she knew she wanted to start a family and decided to stay in Seattle, and started Firefly Fandango in 2002, a cookie company that sold to large retailers. She sold it to her brother-in-law in 2007. Consulting at Sur la Table, she met the Kirkland store manager who asked her to be an instructor at the store, where she taught all kinds of classes. She still teaches at camps in Bellevue and Issaquah. All three of her children work at FrogLegs.

Will FrogLegs continue to leap? "We already have a few ideas of where to open next. I see a cookbook, TV show, story books like 'Mrs. FrogLegs cooking on a world tour,' and more. As my son Austin says, people come here more to learn to love than cook. That's worth growing."

FrogLegs Culinary Academy
501 Market Street
Kirkland, WA 98033

2643 Village Lane
University Village
Seattle, WA


Connie Adams/August 2018

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