Across the U.S. cat cafes are finding creative ways to help animals find their forever homes
Popular in Japan and other parts of Asia for years, cat cafes are just taking off in the U.S. The first, Cat Town CafÃ© in Oakland, Calif., opened its doors in December 2014, with a second in the area, Kit Tea, scheduled to follow come March in San Francisco. In Colorado, the Denver Cat Company recently opened, as has Planet Tails in Naples, Fla., and more are on their way. New York’s Meow Parlor on Hester Street has also just opened its doors.
In Japan, the typical cat cafÃ© aims to provide petting time for stressed professionals living in quarters where pets are not allowed. The American version instead puts the emphasis on adoption, using the opportunity to pair with local shelters to find homes for animals. In most cases, the guest can come enjoy coffee or tea and goodies free, but needs to reserve time in the “cat roomâ€ to visit with the kitties, for a small donation.
For Americans aiming to open such businesses, hurdles exist. The biggest involves the effort to serve food and tea or coffee in a space with live animals. For both Kit Tea and Cat Town CafÃ©, that issue is solved by having separate enclosed areas for food and for cats. According to Kit Tea co-owner Courtney Hatt, the two spaces are completely separated with separate HVAC systems to make sure any allergens are removed from the food preparation space. A vestibule connects the cat play part of the business to the tea room.
“It feels like it’s in the same space, though,â€ Hatt says. “There are windows into the cat space, and you can have cat interaction that way, watching the kitties run around.â€ She points out that patrons can also bring their Japanese teas – including Kyoto ceremonial grade matcha and fine sencha and genmai gha -into the cat space, they just can’t order or pick them up there.
Both Kit Tea and Cat Town CafÃ© serve food and beverages made by local purveyors with little “cooking’ actually done on the premises. Cat Town offers local Bicycle Coffee, plus canned drinks, a cheese selection, bagels and food from a local bakery. Kit Tea, which opens in March, is still finalizing its menu. But the food is secondary to the cats. As Adam Myatt at Cat Town points out, it’s a tough job, balancing both a nonprofit animal rescue and a cafe business all in one.
In both cases, suggested rules ask cafe patrons to treat the cats gently – many are shy of new people, and let the cats come to them. It becomes a safe space for both guests and cats to become acquainted.
The primary goal of the cats here is ultimately finding homes for animals. Denver Cat Company works in tandem with Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue. Cat Town CafÃ©, meanwhile, focuses on getting cats out of the Oakland shelter.
“Everything we’re doing is for the cats,â€ says co-proprietor Adam Myatt of Cat Town CafÃ©. “Our cafÃ© aspect is actually pretty minimal, but it helps bring people in and allows you to interact with the cats.â€ Adorably, the cat cafÃ© features the work of local artists, so the cats play in a miniature version of the city of Oakland, complete with tiny recognizable buildings.
At Kit Tea and Cat Town CafÃ©, reservations are required for time in the cat room. Otherwise, as Hatt notes, people would be in there all day. If you want to come by and enjoy your tea or coffee and just watch the kitties through the window, you can do that, but to interact requires booking time. As both Myatt and Hatt point out, this keeps the cats feeling secure, without the stress of too many people pressing on them at once, and gives guests a chance to get to know a particular animal.
American cat cafes are indeed inspired by their Japanese counterparts, but always with the aim of rescue. Adam Myatt of Cat Town started out as a musician and photographer, shooting pictures of feral cats and posting them online. When friends encouraged him to create a calendar, he started a Kickstarter to fund it and sold out almost immediately. A story in the East Bay Express got him more attention.
When he found a litter of kittens, he called on veteran rescuer Ann Dunn to help. Together, they not only got the kitties adopted, but hatched the plan for Cat Town CafÃ©. In their first month of operation, Cat Town Cafe has found forever homes for 54 cats, though they’re currently open just five days a week.
Courtney Hatt, meanwhile, says she was working in the tech industry that thrives in the Bay Area, but found it wasn’t the thing that made her thrive personally. Stressed and unhappy, she looked at the things that gave her energy, and realized she missed the service industry and being around animals. After reading a Buzzfeed article about Japanese cat cafes, she had an epiphany, quit her job, and paired with a rescue organization closely tied to the PetCo Foundation to help start Kit Tea.
“This is a whole new way to facilitate adoptions,â€ Hatt says. “It’s in a space where there’s no actual pressure, the cats are happy, and we open up for space for the rescue organizations to save other animals.”