The Long Regulatory Road to America's First Cat Cafe
Cat cafes, where guests can sip coffee while petting or playing with a cast of resident felines, have been a thing in Japan since the mid-2000s. More recently, they’ve spread to European cities like London, Paris, Vienna, and Madrid. But strict food service industry regulations have thus far made it difficult for the concept to come to the United States.
Last September, reports of a cat cafe possibly opening in Boston got cat enthusiasts (a.k.a., The Internet) particularly excited. The folks behind Miaou Boston told Boston Magazine that their biggest hurdle was "getting permission to allow animals on the restaurant’s premises.” Since then, they have not updated their social media accounts and could not be reached for this story.
For those still holding out for a cat cafe in the U.S., there's lately been some better news coming from the West Coast.
Courtney Hatt and David Braginsky, a cat-loving duo from San Francisco, are currently at work on KitTea, a cat cafe concept they hope to open in the city this summer.
They envision KitTea as part "gourmet tea house," part "cat and human oasis." To ensure the place is not too crowded or chaotic, the cafe will be at least 1,600 square feet, housing a maximum of 10 cats and 30 to 35 people at a time. KitTea is partnering with a local rescue group to take in shelter cats.
According to its website, KitTea cats will be selected "based on their personalities and whether they have been socialized to be comfortable around both humans and other cats." KitTea also plans to conduct a "period of introduction," where cats can get used to one another’s scents and presence.
Of course, KitTea, just like Miaou Boston, will need to get past local laws that prohibit animals in food facilities. Hatt says she's currently working with San Francisco's Retail Food Safety Program, whose first response to the concept was an emphatic "no," since tea is considered food.
An image KitTea posted on its Facebook page, with the caption "Here's our potential menu.... just kidding! (or are we?)"
Hatt says they'll work around this regulation by putting two walls and a hallway in between the tea service area and the cat oasis. This way, guests can order their tea and bring it over to enjoy among the kitties, on their own accord. The compromise, according to Hatt, has received a "confident thumbs up" from the Food Safety Program.
Up next are discussions with the city’s Environmental Health Department to determine which permits KitTea will need to file and which laws it’ll need to follow in order to house cats day and night.
KitTea has yet to sign a lease on a space, but assuming it can find a landlord willing to take on the project, the plan is to work with a contractor and architect to design an interior that’s safe and enjoyable for both humans and felines. That means making sure the space is ADA compliant, that there’s enough space for each cat to make its own territory, etc.
The team will also be consulting a feline vet and behaviorist along the way. KitTea cats will move in with a clean bill of health, already spayed/neutered and vaccinated.
"We are taking it one day at a time to ensure we get it right," Hatt writes via email. "We want to be an exceptional example for future ventures similar to ours in the U.S."
A Canadian student studying in Japan recently uploaded this narrated tour of several cat cafes in Japan.
Top image: Inside a cat cafe in South Korea (ebullient/Flickr)