The race to open the first cat café in the U.S. is over. As of Catur– er, Saturday, October 25, Oakland’s Cat Town Café will welcome cat and coffee lovers to its friendly space in the city’s Uptown neighborhood for lattes and lap cuddles alike.
Cat cafes are, like most adorably perfect concepts, big in Japan–many city dwellers are unable to keep pets in their apartments, so a number of establishments have popped up with resident cats for paid petting time. But while the idea feels like a big “duh,” no one in the U.S. has managed until now to secure the space, funding, and health code approvals to launch. Earlier this year, reports suggested that a San Francisco tea house called KitTea would be the first, but that still hasn’t happened, and other cafes in Portland and Boca Raton are in the works. A pop-up space in New York opened for a weekend in April, but that was more of a café-inspired adoption event, though a permanent café in New York just started a crowdfunding campaign last month.
Meanwhile, Oakland’s Ann Dunn and Adam Myatt were pooling their knowledge and passion, and raising money through Kickstarter and other donations, to build the East Bay’s urban cat-coffee oasis. Dunn is president of Oakland rescue organization Cat Town, which places foster cats and organizes adoption outreach for cats from Oakland Animal Services, and Myatt is the creator of Hoodcats, a calendar series featuring Oakland felines. They shared a vision to create a nonprofit cat café that would also serve Cat Town’s rescue mission to find homes for the cats on site–Japan’s cafes typically house cats but don’t adopt them out, and most of the other cafes in progress are for-profit businesses partnering with rescue organizations.
Cat Town Café will be open Wednesday through Sunday, and potential petters can reserve an hour in the cat room through an online reservation system for a $10 donation, though walk-ins can also come in for free if there’s space.
“We did a soft opening the past two weekends to test out how many people and how many cats feel good in the space,” says Dunn. “About 14 people at a time is a manageable number.” The café will house nine to 12 cats at a time, chosen by shelter volunteers who will create a list of café-friendly cats who will come in as others are adopted. “They do tests with different cats to see how reactive the cat is, trying to identify cats that are sturdy enough, that aren’t going to be scared here and aren’t going to be freaked out by all the other cats,” she says. Most cats will be one to five years old.
One of a cat café’s first questions is, of course, health safety. The café and Cat Zone sections of the space are divided by a double door system that keeps the cats far away from food prep. “You can take all of your food into the cat section because you as a consumer, that’s your right to do whatever you want with it,” says Myatt. “We just can’t be making stuff with cats jumping in front of coffee. That’s really the biggest deal.” The key word from the health inspector was “separation.”
More than just a novel rescue operation, though, Cat Town Café is a real tribute to its hometown. All the food will be provided by local companies including Bicycle Coffee and Authentic Bagel Company, and the Cat Zone is designed as sort of a cat-sized Oakland. The main climbing structures are being built as replicas of the Oakland Tribune building, the Federal Towers, and City Hall, and several scratching beds are in the form of the Port of Oakland’s famous cranes. Local graffiti artists Bryan and T created wall-spanning murals that honor cats and the city, including a giant Catzilla hovering over the Bay Bridge.
As for the honor of being America’s first cat café, Dunn and Myatt say it wasn’t their primary goal–they even postponed their planned September opening partly because the artist building the cat structures had a family emergency. But it’s certainly a bonus.
“Even as recently as a couple weeks ago, there was a question about who would be first,” says Dunn. “It’s so funny because there have been so many over the last few years, different people who said they were going to open one and then there’s this splash and then you never hear from them again.”
“That’s the thing that I think so many people aren’t understanding,” adds Myatt about the number of cat café endeavors that have yet to open. “Running a café sucks. It’s hard. Then, running a cat rescue is also hard. You’re literally shoveling shit.” For cat lovers, though, it’s all still a dream come true.