Wisconsin is a state with long winters, but until recently, indoor play options for children have been few and far between. A few years ago, Pump It Up opened in Brookfield and, last month, a Monkey Joe’s franchise popped up in Waukesha.
Monkey Joe’s is a brightly colored, indoor facility featuring six or so bouncy structures referred to as "inflatables." The inflatables range in size and thrill factor to accommodate kids between the ages of one and 12. There is a designated section for toddlers.
After visiting Monkey Joe’s franchises in Atlanta, North Carolina and St. Louis, Kevin Wendt and James Jordan decided to open one in Waukesha.
"We were absolutely wowed by the concept," says Wendt. "The bright colors, the cleanliness and all the fun we saw the kids having made us decide to open one here."
A second Wisconsin Monkey Joe's franchise is in Appleton.
The Waukesha Monkey Joe’s opened Sept. 7. The cost is $9.99 per child from Friday to Sunday, and $7.99 per child from Monday to Thursday. Kids 2 and under are $5, and parents can observe for free.
Children must wear socks, but not shoes. Parents are not allowed to bounce, but they can walk onto an inflatable to assist / watch their kids.
Monkey’s Joes features a safety program called the Safety Access Child Control Program with color-coded wristbands to ensure kids do not leave the premise with anyone except their caregivers.
Cleanliness is a big issue, and Wendt says they use a thorough sanitation system once a week, with regular nightly wash-downs in between.
"We know that Monkey Joe’s has to be as clean as it is today in three or four years," says Wendt.
Wendt and Jordan are considering opening another Monkey Joe’s franchise in Glendale, Oak Creek and / or Franklin.
"Our plan is to open one, maybe two more," he says. "There’s really a lack of competition at this point."
Monkey Joe’s is a popular place for birthday parties, and Wendt says since he opened the franchise, they’ve hosted about 200 kids’ parties. Party packages vary, but a weekday party starts at $140. Weekend parties with more than eight kids run anywhere from $209 to $350.
Aside from inflatables, Monkey Joe’s features a small arcade area with games that reward players with tickets. The tickets are redeemable at the concessions desk for prizes. However, Wendt doesn’t align his place with Chuck E. Cheese, despite the similar game / ticket system.
"My parents took my nephew to Chuck E. Cheese a while back and they said they would never go back. The whole reason we opened Monkey Joe’s was to offer a fun place for kids that isn’t Chuck E. Cheese," he says.
So is Monkey Joe’s similar to Chuck E. Cheese?
After a recent visit, we decided no. The arcade and prizes are arguably an unnecessary distraction, and the food items are not healthy (pizza, pretzels, nachos, candy, soda, juice, etc.), but these minor disappointments are outweighed by the amount of exercise kids get in the Monkey Joe’s environment.
Bouncing is challenging cardio-vascular exercise, and the inflatables are visually and physically pleasing enough that our little monkeys spent almost four hours jumping and running, followed by a full night of sleeping like hibernating bears.
We'll be back, Monkey Joe's.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.