Spanish immersion is differentiator for Tierra Encantada daycare
Tierra Encantada staff are fluent in Spanish and most are native speakers, according to the company.
Spanish is the second most common language spoken in the United States, but that’s only part of what inspired Kristen Denzer to start Tierra Encantada, a Spanish language immersion daycare center. Another reason was directly connected to her own children—and their stomachs.
“Some places, you’d see cheese sandwich on the menu board, and I wanted my kids to have more than that,” said Denzer of what she noticed while searching for child care and why she decided to put commercial kitchens at each Tierra Encantada center to provide fresh-cooked, organic food to children. A sample menu features scrambled eggs with spinach and a corn tortilla for breakfast, and a lunch of quinoa salad, avocado, mixed veggies, whole grain bread and pineapple.
Those organic meals that also showcase different cultures’ cuisines, coupled with a bilingual education program and staff fluent in Spanish, are what Denzer believes will set Tierra Encantada apart from other early childhood education concepts as she begins to expand via franchising.
“When parents look for childcare centers, they’re looking for something that’s a guilt-free option,” she said. “Parents, many already feel guilty for leaving their kids” so they can work, which is why she focused on creating an environment different from a typical daycare.
“Parents want to feel like what their child is getting when they’re leaving them is something they couldn’t get at home,” Denzer continued. “We really reflect where society is going.”
Fluent in Spanish herself, Denzer added she wanted her kids to speak Spanish given both its prevalence in the U.S. and the cognitive benefits of learning a second language at a younger age. “I personally think it’s very important to speak a second language,” she said. “And I think the United States is very behind in language study.”
Since opening the first Tierra Encantada, which means “enchanted land” in Spanish, in the Minneapolis suburb of Eagan in 2013, Denzer’s added four more corporate centers in various urban neighborhoods of Minneapolis and has six franchisees signed to develop 11 locations in cities such as Chicago, Houston and Arlington, Virginia.
After launching and operating two businesses, event rental company Deckci Decor and dog daycare The Woof Room, Denzer turned her full attention to Tierra Encantada in 2016, refining the model and bringing on staff, including a chief operating officer and curriculum coordinator.
Those infrastructure investments stood out to franchisee Karin Morgan, who signed a deal to open four Tierra Encantada centers in Chicago. “They’re available at the turn of every corner,” Morgan said of Denzer and her team. “Kristen, she sees the need for something like Tierra Encantada and she’s adding people to the team to grow it. It’s exciting to be at the forefront of something that could be so large.”
As a school social worker, Morgan said she learned Spanish in order to better communicate with students. She participated in two Spanish immersion programs in Mexico and later became a special education department supervisor, her role for the past seven years. With a demanding career and two young children at home, she was “struggling to find a work-life balance” and began researching opportunities in education. Tierra Encantada, she said, “aligns with my own personal passions.”
While Morgan expected the COVID-19 health crisis to delay the opening of her first location, she is still targeting 2021, though likely not early in the year as previously envisioned. She does, however, believe demand for a concept like Tierra Encantada will always remain high. “Daycares will always be there,” she said. “They’re not going away, even with this transition to e-learning.”
Urban markets with dense populations are ideal for Tierra Encantada as it continues expanding, said Denzer, with a typical center size of about 8,000 square feet that can be tailored to a franchisee’s market “to maximize their space and profitability.” The number of children a center can enroll varies by state and also takes into account the footprint. Denzer’s suburban center in Eagan, for example, is 22,000 square feet and has about 270 children enrolled; an urban Minneapolis center with 8,000 square feet is licensed for 110 children.
“We look for the slam dunks, we want them to be profitable from day one,” Denzer said of analyzing franchise markets. The total estimated investment range is $846,558-$1,786,725.