Bronwyn & Mike Bergen: The Gratitude Jar
Story by Heather DiPrato. Photos by Frank Pronesti of Heirloom Studio and Cindy Fatsis.
Each year as we approach Thanksgiving, we reflect on things for which we are grateful. About two years ago this fall, I met Bronwyn Bergen. I recall discussing the power of gratitude (the way you look at the world has a profound impact on the outcomes in your life). At the time, Bronwyn was my daughter’s 3rd grade teacher. I found her energy infectious and my daughter adored her, so I signed up to be a "homeroom mom" that year. While preparing for class events, Bronwyn and I chatted about her new coaching studio and the restaurant she and her husband planned to open that winter.
Little did we know that within a few short months, their restaurant would open, the world would shut down, school would be held virtually for a year, and nothing would ever feel quite the same again.
Over the first few months of the pandemic, I often thought of those conversations with Bronwyn, and the concept that our attitude and gratitude influence the outcomes in our lives. It was a message I needed to remind myself of daily.
Bronwyn once mentioned an idea in kids coaching called the “gratitude jar” – you would intentionally write down anything you felt grateful for throughout the day and place it in a jar. Then, anytime you felt overwhelmed, sad, stressed, or afraid, you could take out those slips of paper in the jar to remind yourself of the things that made you feel blessed, not stressed. I found the concept useful for myself, too. This year, as we were looking through nominations, I knew the Bergens were a perfect fit for our “thanks and giving” issue.
Over the past two years, Bronwyn and Mike have been quite busy, and they seem to like it that way! The couple lives by the principle that life is an adventure; embrace it, be kind, humble, and always give back.
When they met at the gym and fell in love more than a decade ago, they knew they had something special. Both were passionate about health, fitness, travel, and living life to its fullest. Once they blended their families (each had two school-aged children from prior marriages), their friends jokingly referred to them as the Brady Bunch.
Today, those four children are grown. Their eldest, Michael (now 26), works for Fiserv and lives in Dublin, Ireland. Devon (24) is pursuing her Masters’ Degree and lives in Florida. Colin (23) lives in King of Prussia and is working for JM Search, an executive Search Firm. And their youngest, Gillian (20), is a junior at The University of Tampa. Florida has become an important part of their lives. “A year ago, Mike and I bought a house on Captiva Island,” says Bronwyn. “We love to gather there as a family. We have a family of manatees who live off our dock and we adore interacting with them. You also can’t beat paddle boarding or kayaking on the island, but the sunrises and sunsets are the absolute BEST!”
The couple jokes they have developed a sort of ‘real estate ADHD’ through the years. “Over the past ten years, we’ve lived in five houses across Lower Bucks County,” says Mike. “We just purchased a home in Newtown Borough that dates to 1888 and appreciate the amazing history of both our home and the town. It’s a perfect location for this time in our lives, close to our friends and family, near to our business, and walkable to shops and restaurants.”
Mike and Bronwyn are now empty nesters and share their home with their cat, Bree, and rescue dog Colt, who they adopted almost 10 years ago. According to a doggie DNA test, Colt is a half Lab, American Bulldog and Staffordshire Terrier mix. “Colt and Bree definitely have a love-hate relationship,” jokes Bronwyn. “But they are loving their new home.” Mike and Bronwyn have also received a very warm welcome from their new neighbors. “When we moved in, every neighbor popped over to introduce themselves,” says Bronwyn. “That is rare nowadays! We look forward to meeting more of our neighbors and even hear there are cool Friday wine porch parties. We can hardly wait!”
The Bergens genuinely enjoy time together as a family – whether at home in Newtown or Captiva, or an exotic vacation destination, travel is one way the family connects with each other. “We love to make memories by travelling the world, trying crazy foods, new adventures, and embracing new cultures. Our trip to Asia stands out as an all-around adventure where we created happy life-long memories,” Bronwyn tells us. “In the past, we went as a family to Iceland, The Greek Islands, France, Italy, Mexico, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Roatan, Cayman Islands, and more.
One memory that sticks out was where we decided to bungee jump at New Zealand's highest mountains and landed a helicopter on a glacier! Another is when we all went swimming with stingrays in the ocean – although some in our family did not enjoy that particular part of the adventure,” she laughs.
A former helicopter pilot and Army Reservist, Mike is a partner at a global recruiting firm that specializes in placing human resource leaders and is well respected in his field. Bronwyn spent 30 years as a beloved elementary school teacher in the Pennsbury School District, and this past June, retired from teaching. In preparation for the possibility of retiring, in 2018, Bronwyn traveled to London to attain a certification as a Kid’s Life Coach from the preeminent organization in the field. When she returned to the states, she founded The STARS Kid’s Life Studio with an aim to help children build self-esteem, social skills, emotional intelligence, strong communication skills, and a success mindset.
“Since I’ve retired from teaching, this is a wonderful way to continue my passion for helping children,” says Bronwyn. “The goal of life coaching for kids is to help inspire, motivate, provide greater self-acceptance and self-awareness, and an understanding of their own thought patterns.” While her first year was primarily focused on local children in her studio in person, the pandemic changed things. Kids across the country and around the world needed positive role models to help navigate the isolation of virtual learning, social media pressures, and more. Today, Bronwyn has dozens of kids she coaches, some at her studio on Washington Ave in Newtown, others via Zoom. In fact, she recently began coaching her first international clients!
For most couples, dealing with two moves and a major career shift amidst a pandemic would be a lot to take on. But as we mentioned, Bronwyn and Mike like to stay busy! Many in Newtown will recognize Mike and Bronwyn as the owners of Playa Bowls in the Village at Newtown Shopping Center, which opened in January of 2020. “We then opened our second Playa Bowls in Fairless Hills in August of 2020,” says Bronwyn, “and just opened our third location in Fort Myers, Florida on September 2nd of this year. We plan to continue to open more Playa Bowls locations in Southwest Florida.”
For the uninitiated, Playa Bowls is a unique fast-casual restaurant that offers fresh, healthy options like acai bowls, smoothies, and freshly pressed juices. Unlike other businesses in this genre, they focus on quality ingredients that are as fresh and pure as possible, and never add apple juice or bananas to sweeten their acai (the superfood at the base of many recipes).
Our family attended their Newtown grand opening and were immediately hooked! “It kind of tastes like a vacation in a bowl,” my 10-year-old observed. Indeed, a visit to Playa Bowls feels like a getaway to a tropical oasis, which is exactly the vibe the Bergens wanted for the community.
“It’s wonderful to see people come in for a healthy treat and then just hang out here because the space makes them feel relaxed and happy,” says Bronwyn. “It’s the perfect spot to grab breakfast or lunch, a post-game or workout snack, or a quick healthy dinner. Our new home is just five minutes from our Newtown store and ten from our Fairless Hills store, so we love stopping by and seeing our team and guests.”
The duo along with their General Manager, Leah Patterson, have made many connections since opening their restaurants, and are enjoying the opportunity to give back to their community. “Through Playa Bowls, we belong to the Newtown Business Association and have met many wonderful people and made fantastic connections,” says Bronwyn. “We also love sponsoring local sport teams and supporting our ‘dine and donate’ for local organizations.”
The Bergens stay energized through daily exercise, whether it’s on the Peloton Bike or Tread, or running together. “It helps both mentally and physically,” says Bronwyn. They also both enjoy cheering on their favorite Philadelphia teams. “I am a Philadelphia fan through and through,” Bronwyn explains, “but I’ll admit I did grow up as a Steelers fan since my father was from Pittsburgh! Now that we are empty nesters, I am really enjoying spending more time with my parents and in-laws.”
Most of all, Mike and Bronwyn appreciate time together with their family whenever possible. “We always have so much fun as a family no matter where we are,” says Bronwyn. “When we are all together, we love just hanging out, playing cornhole, cooking dinner together, and creating our own family games! We are truly blessed and grateful, and appreciate the way the community embraced our business throughout the past two years. We would like to say thank you and we look forward to continuing to help our community by giving back.”
Bronwyn and Mike’s gratitude jar is filled to the brim with love, family, travel, health, business, community, and all the people and experiences that have made their journey special. If you’d like to connect with Bronwyn and Mike, you can follow their Playa Bowls journey @PlayaBowlsNewtown, @PlayaBowlsFairlessHills, @PlayaBowlsFortMyers, and you can reach Bronwyn through @STARSKidsLifeStudio