When Courtney Hatt came across an article about Japan’s cat cafes, she did not, like many of its readers, chuckle about it in a tweet. Because rather than just an amusing piece of trivia about another country, she had found a calling. "I thought, wow, that sounds like a lot of fun," she remembers. "I really want to do that."
Hatt had spent the last three years working at startups. She was tired of sitting in front of a computer all day, was having panic attacks, and really loved cats. It was a purr-fect project.
As often happens in the startup world, she soon learned that she wasn’t the only person pursuing the idea. David Braginsky, who works as a software engineer at Asana (and is holding two bunnies in his LinkedIn photo), had also been talking about bringing access to fuzzy animals to the Bay Area. She emailed him on the recommendation of a friend to ask if he wanted to collaborate.
The two have been working on a tea café filled with kittens, called KitTea, ever since.
Here’s the vision: Patrons will pay by the hour for their tea. They can enjoy it in the company of kittens (who are generally more amenable to group living situations than cats). If they fall in love, they can apply for an adoption.
Beyond rescuing kittens, Hatt thinks her café will provide a much needed warm, fuzzy spot in San Francisco for stressed-out techies and other cat lovers. "It’s just the complete opposite of doing something where you’re on tech and working in an office on the computer all day," she says. "It’s more something where you can actually connect with the community and help cats and just be a part of something physically rather than on the Internet all day."
As nice as tea with cats sound, it's easy to understand why the idea hasn't hit it off in the United States yet. Health inspectors do not like it. KitTea plans to compromise by serving tea in a space separate from its cats. Customers can choose, of their own accord, to pass through a doorway, cross a hallway, and enter another room where the cats will live. The health department representative Hatt and Braginsky spoke with didn’t have a problem with that.
In true startup fashion, KitTea plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign within the next couple of weeks. If that doesn't work, it will look for angel investors. Currently the business is in the process of negotiating a lease.
Obtaining kittens has been surprisingly easy. Hatt plans to keep them comfortable by restricting the number of people allowed in the cat café, by disallowing same-day adoptions, and working with a cat behavioralist. "They know our hearts are in the right place," she says of the two animal rescue organizations who have agreed to work with her. "We’re not doing this to make a lot of money on tea. Because that’s not going to happen. It’s really a passion project."
Update: The KitTea crowdfunding campaign is now live.