The poster caught my eye recently while I was waiting for my dinner at a local restaurant. It promised an unconventional, but in my mind ‘purrfect’ marriage: cats and coffee.
I rushed home to do some research online and found out more about The Seattle Meowtropolitan, a cat café that is finally bringing this popular Asian phenomenon closer to home. Slated to open around June 2015, its founders are certain that cats and “catpuccinos” are just what Seattle needs.
So what the heck is a cat café exactly?
An image surfaced in my mind of a quirky themed café nestled in some fashionable Japanese district, where cats and humans mingled over pastries and pet treats in some unconventional co-existence. Strange, but a pleasant idea nonetheless.
Cat cafes are sort of like a cross between your local café and a petting zoo. They typically consist of an area for serving food and drinks, as well as a place where cats roam freely and customers are able to interact with them. Payment is usually made based on time spent with cats, though some cafes have also had success with things like day passes.
Many have rules set for the interaction between humans the furry friends in the cafes for both species’ safety, such as enforcing age limits or adult supervision for younger visitors, and advising customers not to pick up sleeping or visibly agitated cats.
“We wanted to fit our café into that culture and be like a community hub for people in Seattle who love cats,” says Matt Lai, the marketing director behind the Meowtropolitan. “More than just being a physical café we want to be like a brand that represents cat lovers.”
The first cat café opened its doors to Taipei in 1998, and since then the craze has slowly but steadily sunk its claws into many overseas locations. Notable shops now include Neko no mise (猫の店) in Japan and the Cat Attic (고양이 다럭방 ) chain of stores in Korea.
These cafes’ extreme popularity in places like Japan have been attributed to the lifestyle of the citizens. Many people who live in apartments with pet restrictions or have busy schedules cannot juggle taking care of a pet in the mix, so cat cafes have become a popular go-to for people to de-stress and have the experience of owning a cat without obligation. This novel idea has spawned a host of spin-off animal cafes such as bird, rabbit, and even a reptile café in Yokohama, Japan
The western world has been relatively slow to catch on to this idea. But back in October, Cat Town Café opened to the public in Oakland, California making it the first of its kind in the United States. Various other establishments such as the Denver Cat Company in Colorado are set to follow before the year ends.
“I think it’s because of the popularity on the internet,” says Lai on the sudden surge in popularity of cats everywhere. “I know I’ve personally seen on sites like Reddit that people post about cat cafes they’ve visited and other people are like ‘Oh my God that’s so cool, I’ve never heard of this”
Cat Town Café’s kitty regulars were all taken from the municipal shelter, and are up for adoption by the public if any catch their eye at the cafe. The Seattle Meowtropolitan also aims to also partner with a local shelter by December to employ its cats on their feline staff list. This usage of shelter cats in the café is a relatively new practice that puts the North American establishments at odds with some of their Asian counterparts, where cats will be specially bred or picked based on appearance to inhabit in their cafes.
“I think this idea of making the cats in the cat café adoptable is a very new concept even though the cafes have existed [for a long time],” said Lai. “This new wave of cat cafes in the U.S. were the first ones to say ‘we also double as a shelter.’”
Rules and regulations also play a stronger role in the new cafes that have opened in the States. While cafes in other countries may allow cats and food preparation in one room, health codes in Seattle ban the interaction of these two. The Meowtropolitan plans to have two separate areas within their establishment, with the café and cat interactions area separated by a solid wall.
“So if you were to walk into our café, you’d walk into the café part first,” says Lai. “You’d order a drink and then can either finish your drink in the café, or it’s up to you to take your drink or your pastries into the cat room. Now that is where we meet health code because you go in to the animal portion on your own volition. It wouldn’t even meet health standards if it wasn’t on your own accord.”
“Everyone’s welcome to visit,” says Louisa Liu, another one of the Meowtropolitan’s founders. “So if where you live allows you to have a pet and you want a cat… why not adopt one of ours if it’s for a good purpose?”
The Meowtropolitan is currently working on fundraising for their venture through crowdsourcing on Indiegogo. A recent partnership with Herkimer Coffee has also secured a roaster for their coffee. A timeline estimates that they will continue sourcing funds through crowdfunding for their project until the end of the year, and begin planning and further construction in the months that follow. They are hoping to open to the public mid-2015.
Click here to find out more information about The Seattle Meowtropolitan.