The people have spoken, and the people want cat cafés.
Widening the scope, the American people seem to just really like cats. There are videos, memes, that thing where people stick pieces of bread on their heads; cat-isms rain upon our collective culture with torrential fervor. The fact that 24 percent of cat owners have three or more cats, compared to a measly ten percent of dog owners who have three or more dogs, shows that cats are something of an addiction in our country.
This past weekend, New York City became home to the nation's first cat café—for the unfamiliar, a business model popularized in Japan and Europe wherein people can simultaneously drink coffee and sit around petting cats in a cozy, enclosed space. Although there are currently two other cat cafés scheduled to open in the Bay Area later this year—San Francisco's KitTea and Oakland's Cat Town Café —neither seems to have scored the proper space or permits as of yet. The restless, trembling masses have had to wait for a domestic-soil opportunity to combine their interests in cat-touching and lattés until late last week, when the inaugural rendition appeared on the corner of Bowery and Delancey.
I asked Purina One's on-site contact, Niky Roberts, how they managed to skirt the potential sanitation issues. "It's not a permanent structure, so those permits were easier to get," she explained. "But also, everything is separate." (Indeed it was: The café part was more like a coffee stand at the storefront, with the cat-containment area behind a rather intimidating set of double doors.) "All of the beverage prep is kept separate from where the cats are, and all of the bakery items are prepared and packaged off-site, then brought in, so there aren't cats anywhere near food prep here." With this in mind, I couldn't help but wonder to myself what made this so different from, say, the dedicated rooms in virtually every animal shelter where cats roam and lounge on furniture, eager for visitors and socialization. But it appears that a rose—or dander-laden parlor—by any other name would not smell as sweet.
'All of the beverage prep is kept separate from where the cats are, and all of the bakery items are prepared and packaged off-site, then brought in, so there aren't cats anywhere near food prep here.'
The café was a publicity stunt, albeit with some good intentions. A joint effort between Purina One and North Shore Animal League, it was created to find permanent homes for as many kitties as possible and simultaneously promote Purina One's 28-Day Challenge, which entails switching your hypothetical cat's food to their formula and watching its health measurably blossom before your very eyes. Niky says, "We want people to see cats that are happy and healthy. We know the cat café thing is popular in Europe and Asia, and all of the best conversations happen in cafés, so it seemed to be a no-brainer. We want to find engaged cat owners who care about their pets. People with dogs have dog parks, and cat owners don't really have that outlet."
The public response was maniacal. On all four days of the café's run, people waited in line, faces literally pressed against the windows, for anywhere from two to six hours to get in—intermittent rain showers be damned. Was it for the foam-art "Catuccinos" or the hopes of bringing home a Garfield to call their own? I talked to some of the cat café's patrons to try to understand what was going on with their oohs and aahs.
MUNCHIES: How long did you have to wait today? William K: I waited just about a solid five hours.
Would you say that it was worth the wait? Very, because I have really wanted to go to a cat café for all my life. This is probably as close to Japanese culture as I can get.
Have you been to a cat café before? I wish. It's my dream. So when I heard that they were holding a cat café here in New York City, I just had to come.
Did you get anything to eat or drink from the café? I'm saving that for the end. I've got to get all of the cuteness out of the way before I go for grubs.
Do you ever visit animal shelters or cat rescues? Not that I can say … no.
Do you have any cats at home? I wish. I am a big cat lover. I do like dogs too, but I've always been a cat person. I just love the black and white cats. There's something about a black cat that is very nice. There's a stigma about the bad look with black cats, but I don't think so. I think black cats are just very "mystique." And of course, I like white cats as well. They're kind of the opposite of it. There's something about albino cats that is very pure … like, a pure white snow cat.
Why don't you get a cat? Financial reasons, plus making sure that my environment is safe. If I were to get a cat I would want preparations first.
Did you have the ears before, or did you purchase them just for today? Oh, I had them before. I got these at New York Comic-Con from playing Super Mario Bros 3-D World for Wii.
MUNCHIES: How long did you have to wait to get in? Roz: About four hours. But now that I'm in here, the wait pales in comparison to the awesomeness of all of these kitties. Although, I was kind of grumpy when it started raining.
Do you have any cats of your own? I have 2 cats, Lucy and Mitzy. But if you spend enough time with a new cat, you have to kind of earn its trust a bit unless it's a really friendly cat. It's like a whole new experience when a cat lets you pet them, and it feels good.
Did you get anything from the café? No, I just ran right in here because I was so excited.
MUNCHIES: How long did you have to wait to get in? Stephen: Four hours, I think. We got here at noon.
Would you consider adopting one of these cats? Beth: I've been looking to adopt a cat, so this is the perfect opportunity. All of them seem so cute, but since they're so tired it's hard to tell [what they're like]. It's been a long day. I mean, I'd feel the same way.
Did you get anything from café? Stephen: Catuccinos. They're so cute. I don't even drink coffee; I just liked the little cat face.
MUNCHIES: How long have you guys been in line? Eric: So far, we've been in line for about two hours.
You guys got any cats? Eric: My roommates have two cats, but one is shitty and is moving out soon. Margie: I want a cat, but my boyfriend would kill me if I came home with one.
If there was a dog café, would you go to it? Jeff: I don't think so. It would get chaotic and messy. Eric: Yeah, I don't think so. They need so much attention.
What about a reptile café? Jeff: Yeah, I would go to a reptile café for the experience. Eric: Me too, definitely.