Cat Café combines caffeine with adoption potential
By John Gregory
The exterior looks like any other Downtown coffee shop except for the name on the sign: Cat Café. Inside, furry felines wander about, mingling with guests who sip coffee or tea and calmly pet the small, four-legged creatures.
Customers can order their drinks at a narrow counter in a room to the side of the entrance. Then, after walking through a series of doors that keep the cats inside, they can play with kitties in a large room filled with soft cushions, small cat beds, a miniature Eiffel Tower and shelves on the walls for the cats to climb. The atmosphere is very calming, and the cats are the stars of the show.
“They do entertaining things,” said Tony Wang, owner and general manager of the Cat Café. “Some of them will climb up into that Eiffel Tower and they’ll spend all day hanging out there. Whenever they do that, people are always amazed.”
A textured wall stands at the rear of the room dividing the playroom from an office and a back room storing cat food, supplies, litter boxes and a few more wall platforms for the cats to climb.
The wall, which resembles a flat mountainside, does not go all the way to the ceiling but it’s several feet high. Amazingly, some of the cats have been seen jumping over the wall, Wang said.
“There are the ones who will open the bathroom door and just hang out in the bathroom until we see them,” he said. “They’re pretty interesting creatures.”
Wang said he opened Cat Cafe in January 2015 after reading about a similar business in Paris that had a two- to three-month waiting list to get a reservation. Customers at that cafe could get a sit-down meal, but food regulations are different in the U.S. Department of Public Health regulations require that the food-serving area be located in a separate room. Once guests are served their beverages and snacks, they can enter the cat play area.
The first cat cafe was started in Taiwan in 1988, Wang said. The concept spread to Japan and throughout Asia, then to Europe.
At San Diego’s Cat Cafe, located at 472 Third Ave., customers also have the opportunity to adopt one of the cats if they become attached to it. Cat Café partners with The Rescue House, a local nonprofit, all-volunteer organization that specializes in rescuing cats, fostering them and helping them get adopted. Cats from the organization are brought to Cat Cafe, where they live until they are adopted.
“They look at us as kind of like a public foster home,” Wang said.
The Cat Café usually has about 10 cats wondering around that come from The Rescue House each week. When a cat is adopted, The Rescue House brings another to the cafe. Wang owns three cats, one of which he adopted through his own cafe’s program.
“I’ve always had an interest in animal welfare,” said Wang, who previously had a career in sales and marketing. “I figured this would provide me with an opportunity to hopefully do well while doing some good.”
Wang said the Cat Café has seen 221 cats adopted as of February. When interviewed, he said two cats on the premises were spoken for at that time and two cats were adopted the week before.
He said his Cat Café is the only one of its kind in San Diego, but he knows of one in Los Angeles. Most of his customers come from Downtown, North County and East County.
“It swings more toward tourists and Downtown residents during the week and then on the weekends, that’s when we’ll get people coming in from Carlsbad or El Cajon,” Wang said. “We’ve had people drive down from the Los Angeles area. They tell us they are making a little day trip out of it.”
The Cat Café is open from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. daily. For more information, visit catcafesd.com.