We knew the day was coming soon and America’s first cat café has opened its doors. (For sticklers, this is the first permanent cat café.) Oakland’s Cat Town opened November first and promptly sent social media into paroxysms of cat coos and declarations of newfound career trajectories. That will only ramp up as more and more and more open.
The first part of cat café is pretty well defined. These are rescue organizations, not kitty play-date spaces, and they offer patrons the chance to hangout with adoptable cats in a space that’s easy on the cat (plenty of hideaways and scratching posts) and on the adopters (no cages inducing save-all-the-cats spasms).
The second part of the concept, the café, isn’t so clear from café websites and social media, a bit odd considering health departments have been the biggest obstacle to getting these organizations off crowd-funding sites and on street corners. None of the most promising cafés (well, those with websites) include menus or even photos of coffee, just cats. Meowtropolitan, which hopes to open next year, is the only one to name its roaster, saying it will work with Herkimer Coffee.
None of this is to scoff at the concept. The people involved in these projects are doing good, it’s just that maintaining the work will be tough if its yoked to a failing café. Animal rescues are notoriously difficult to fund and cafés are notoriously prone to fail, and both seem to attract idealists who don’t put in the homework to succeed. A slimmed-down version of the café—really great batch-brew to entice potential adopters but no lattes or smoothies—would cut the execution difficulty in half. A well-run café that, to the unknowing customer, just happens to share a glass wall with a cat rescue might be another successful model.
And that seems to be Cat Town’s approach, which is encouraging. If you’re not in the market for a cat but are for coffee, you can swing by for a cup and watch the languid creatures while you wait for your order.
—Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup’s editor. He owns two dogs but has nothing against cats. Photo by James Whitesmith.