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April 10, 2023 | Shannon Smith

Lil Cub Den brings indoor play space to Maryville

Whether families come once or once a week, Wenger hopes Lil Cub Den can be a community space where memories and friendships are made. 

If there’s one thing Jonnay Wenger loves more than anything, it’s kids. 

“Oh, my gosh, I love kids,” she said. “I love my kids a lot. But just kids in general are so fun and the things that they come up with every day, they’re so free thinking and a little bit wild at heart and I love it.” 

Wenger’s no stranger to kids. She has three herself, ages 12, nine, and almost two. 

“I was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years and it has been huge for me to have a routine of getting up in the morning, getting dressed, putting makeup on, and just having other people to talk to,” she said. “It can be really isolating when you’re home with little ones and a lot of times we just forget to take care of ourselves.” 

Jonnay Wenger, owner, Lil Cub Den

That’s something Wenger wanted to change when her family moved to Tennessee from California in 2021. They saw great school ratings in Maryville and chose it as their new home. 

Looking for that sense of community as a stay-at-home mom, one of the first things Wenger noticed was a lack of indoor play spaces in Blount County. 

When she couldn’t find what she wanted, she opened one herself. 

Lil Cub Den is an indoor play space for families “to come and enjoy their time together,” said Wenger. 

“It’s been super nice to see moms come in with their kids and either just strike up new friendships or bring their friends in with them to spend some time connecting,” she said. 

Lil Cub Den has a large indoor play area for kids with a slide, swings, and other toys and games. There’s a designated private area for nursing mothers, as well as adult-sized tables and chairs. Wenger also sells coffee and products from local makers. 

“It’s something that I kind of had always thought about doing, but I didn’t know that I could do it. And I still don’t know, but it’s been great to have some great feedback from the community,” she said. 

Wenger took her idea, which she said was just a rough business plan written on a Google Doc, to the CO.STARTERS program through Sky City Entrepreneur Center in Maryville. They helped her tidy up her plan and soon her business was up and running. 

About a month before her grand opening, Wenger and Lil Cub Den won Sky City’s first Launchpad Pitch Event, winning $2,500 for her business. 

“What was great about the pitch competition is I was able to share my heart,” said Wenger. “I think the judges liked that we were already up and running but they also said I came across so passionately, and they could tell that it really mattered to me.” 

It does matter to her, as a mom who’s searched for an exact space like Lil Cub Den and never been able to find it. 

“We’ve had so many people just say, ‘we needed this place.’ And there are people that keep coming back,” said Wenger. “I love seeing that look on mom’s eyes of like, ‘my kid is the cutest, most creative, most clever’ because a lot of times you see parents out in stores or restaurants or places where they just seem stressed out. It’s nice for them to be able to come enjoy this space and see their kids in their natural habitat.”

The view from the play area of Lil Cub Den.

While Wenger wasn’t sure she’d be able to turn that feeling into a business, she’s proven it’s possible. 

“You’re never going to know,” she said. “You’re never going to feel like it’s the right time and you’re completely prepared until you’re in it and you’re doing it and so we’re kind of just learning as we go.” 

Whether families come once or once a week, Wenger hopes Lil Cub Den can be a community space where memories and friendships are made. 

“There are some really amazing businesses in this community, and I would just be honored to be among them,” she said. 

You can visit Lil Cub Den at 2730 US Highway 411 South, Maryville, TN 37801. They’re open Monday through Friday from 9-11 and 12-2, with an hour break in the middle to clean and reset. 

Walk-ins and reservations are accepted. Check out Lil Cub Den’s website for more. 

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