It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment cat cafes blew up in the United States. It’s like one day no one had even heard of a cat cafe (that’s a cafe with cats who hang out inside), and the next day, several had shot up across the country.
What caused the sudden growth spurt? Perhaps national pride, given that Canada opened the first cat cafes in North America? Or maybe Purina’s New York City pop-up cat cafe last spring convinced cat lovers and entrepreneurs the concept was viable.
Whatever the reason, cat cafes certainly seem to have caught on across the country. To find out more about this popular phenomenon, we spoke with the founders of seven U.S. cat cafes. They shared with us what inspired them, how they run their cafes and how successful they’ve been to date. So grab a latte, curl up with your favorite feline and find out what goes on behind the scenes at America’s cat cafes.
CAT TOWN CAFE: Oakland, California
Adam Myatt and Ann Dunn opened Cat Town Cafe & Adoption Center in October of 2014, making it the first cat cafe in the United States. The “Cat Zone” area within the cafe features adoptable cats from Oakland Animal Services (the municipal shelter) and houses anywhere from 10 to 20 cats at a time.
As a rescue group, Cat Town has been helping rescue cats from Oakland Animal Services since 2011.
“We saw the cat cafe idea as a way to expand our mission and help more cats who were languishing in the shelter,” Myatt says.
Visiting Japan in 2013 further cemented their plan to offer cats for adoption rather than allow the cats to live permanently in the cafe.
“The Japanese cat cafe cats generally live out their lives in that setting, and while our idea was to always be an adoption center, seeing cats in that kind of environment first-hand reinforced that our cafe would have a big focus on adoption,” he says.
As of mid May, Cat Town Cafe & Adoption Center had found homes for more than 182 cats, with many more in foster-to-adopt (FTA) situations.
“We suggest folks do FTA if they’ve got another cat, dog or small children, and need to do proper introductions and see how new cats will fit into their home,” Myatt says.
He is looking to expand and recently leased a neighboring space to save and home even more cats.
MEOW PARLOUR: New York, New York
Christina Ha and Emilie Legrand opened Meow Parlour, New York’s first permanent cat cafe, on Dec. 15, 2014. Ha says it was their love of cats that inspired them to open shop.
“When Emilie first started talking about visiting the cat cafe in Paris, we kept lamenting how we didn’t have one in New York,” she says. “We figured we’re not the only ones who felt this way, so we made it happen!”
There are usually eight to 12 cats up for adoption at the cafe. The cats are from local rescue group, KittyKind, which has long worked to place cats in foster homes until the furry felines find their forever homes.
As of April of this year, more than 20 cats have been placed into permanent homes as a result of the cat cafe.
The community’s response (it’s NYC after all!) has been “incredibly positive,” according to Ha.
“New Yorkers and visitors have embraced the concept and continue to flock to Meow Parlour to spend time with our adoptable cats,” she says.
PLANET TAILS: Naples, Florida
The brainchild of Ericka Basile, Planet Tails, a cat cafe and pet store, opened on Dec. 6, 2014. Basile has long been involved in many areas of the pet industry — from a pet product scout for “Good Morning America” to a pet writer and of course, a volunteer. As she puts it, the decision to open the cafe came from a desire to better connect with animals.
“Something was missing from my day-to-day life as a pet product expert,” she says. “I was not connecting with animals in real life but was constantly talking about them and the products they loved… so I decided to follow my dream.”
Basile teamed up with Collier County Domestic Animal Services to offer cats for adoption at the cafe. The cafe has 10 cats up for adoption at any given time.
As of late May, Basile reports that the cafe has found homes for 28 cats and kittens and notes that the community’s response has been “amazing.”
“We have had children, college kids and many empty nesters given we’re in Florida,” Basile says.
DENVER CAT COMPANY: Denver, Colorado
The “brilliance of the idea and its success in Europe” prompted lawyer and cat lover Sana Q. Hamelin to open her own cat cafe in the Mile High City. Denver Cat Company also opened its doors in December 2014 (we’re starting to notice a trend here).
All of the cats at Denver Cat Company are up for adoption because Hamelin believes “every cat deserves a home, and this [the cafe] is a great way of matching cats with their humans.” She works with rescues Planet Pet and For The Love Of Paws to find cats for the cafe. Eight cats can be found there at any given time.
Hamelin says the community has been supportive and positive of the new endeavor. As of April, 31 cats have found their homes because of the cafe.
CALICO NOOK: Franklin, Massachusetts
Kristi Mahoney and Marissa Chappell Massucco opened Calico Nook on March 14, 2014. Mahoney says they were “inspired to create a cafe for the mutual appeal and benefits it provided cats and people.”
The cafe has a few resident cats who are rescues themselves, and the team is in the process of working with local shelters to be able to offer cats for adoption, Mahoney says. They plan on housing four to six adoptable cats at a time.
“However, having resident cats ensures that we will have cats at the cafe during times cats are not being fostered,” she says.
The community has been “extremely supportive and positive” of the cat cafe, Mahoney says.
“Many people have come from hours away just to visit Calico Nook,” she says.
PURRINGTON CAT LOUNGE: Portland, Oregon
The Paris cat cafe also inspired Kristen Castillo to open Purrington Cat Lounge.
“I had an epiphany: ‘I WANT TO DO THAT!’ and started working the next day toward the goal of opening one up,” she says.
Castillo works exclusively with Cat Adoption Team, a feline-only shelter in Sherwood, Oregon, to offer adoptable cats at the cafe. She says forming a partnership with a shelter made sense for a lot of reasons.
“The high number of homeless kitties is probably top of the list,” she says. “Also, the benefit of guidance, advice and healthy cats that comes with working with a reputable partner.”
Anywhere from eight to 10 cats are available for adoption at any given time. Since opening in January 2015, Purrington Cat Lounge has adopted out 26 cats (as of April).
THE CAT CAFE: San Diego, California
It seems the cat cafes in Paris (not Canada, as hypothesized) are a common theme in motivating cat lovers to open cat cafes in the United States.
“I read about the cat cafe in Paris, with its months long waiting list, and figured I could bring it to the U.S.,” says Tony Wang, founder of the The Cat Cafe in San Diego.
The Cat Cafe, which opened in January 2015, works with The San Diego Humane Society to offer an average of 10 adoptable cats at the cafe at any given time.
As of April, The Cat Cafe has found homes for an impressive 33 cats.
These seven shops do not appear to be the last we will be seeing of the cat cafes. In fact, two new cat cafes — Crumbs and Whiskers in Washington, D.C., and KitTea in San Francisco — just opened in June.
Have you had the chance to visit any of these cat cafes? Or do you have dreams of opening one yourself? Tell us about it in the comments.