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In 1998, Cat Flower Garden, the world’s first ever cat cafe, opened in Taipei, Taiwan. Since then, cat cafes have opened all across Asia and Europe, and now almost two decades later they are popping up exponentially throughout the United States. In this day and age of the internet that is utterly in love with cats and artisan coffee, there is no wonder why we have embraced organizations and businesses that allow people to experience both. Cat cafes in America, much like every other fad to breakout across the country, had to start somewhere, and in this case, it began in Oakland.
The idea for Cat Town Cafe began in late 2013 between Hoodcats creator Adam Myatt and Cat Town Executive Director and founder Ann Dunn. After finding a litter of kittens, Adam was steered towards Ann via a mutual friend. After a few meetings, they came up with the idea of how to properly showcase their shared love and care for cats: a cat café. Cat Town had already established itself as a foster program since 2011; bringing Adam into the fold only helped draw a wider audience in a fun, sociable way. In his own words: ‘We’re already doing this community service, now how do we get the money to make it sustainable?’
And from the moment of its inception, quickly the gears turned to make it into a reality. They quickly started fundraising through Hoodcats, followed by a few cat cafe pop-ups in March. Adam then took trip to Japan visiting cat cafes and cat islands, learning more about how these businesses and organizations run. With a quick turnaround and help from the community, a location was found, the lease was signed in July, and suddenly America’s first cat cafe opened in October 2014.
Cat Town Cafe greets guests with a modest door in a brick wall along 29th Street that leads into a simple little cafe. The interior is bright with walls lined with images of cats who have graced Cat Town, matching the warmth of their baristas’ customer service. They occasionally might also have galleries featuring cat-oriented work from local artists, most recently by Deth P. Sun in March 2016. The menu has a minimal selection, but the offerings of locally roasted Bicycle Coffee and cat-themed baked goods are still of great quality and help accentuate the bigger reason to visit: the cats.
A reservation with a $10 donation (or $5 for walk-ins–though reservations are more encouraged) gives you one hour to go right into the Cat Zone: a space where 8-24 adoptable cats are free to socialize with guests. The room is filled with cat houses and seats, most of which are made to look like local Oakland landmarks such as City Hall and the Tribune Tower, flanked by two walls covered in murals depicting cats and the Bay Area. Here, guests are able to interact with any roaming cats with many available toys. Just around the corner is also the Quiet Room, an area available for their catnaps that also allows people to watch tired cats sleep. An important advantage of the Cat Zone isn’t only so that prospective adopters can take the time to find the right rescue, but it also helps these cats grow into their own personalities by socializing with people and other cats. In addition to these visits, Cat Town Café also offers special events like Cat Zone Yoga or Cat Zone Movie Nights to help bring some extra flare for visitors.
Learning more about Cat Town Café and with each individual visit, it becomes apparent that even after cat cafés have quickly grown in popularity, this one has always made its priority towards rescuing and fostering these cats. Adam refers to the cafe as ‘a permanent fundraiser that will help continue our mission; everything is about moving the mission forward,’ and in this perspective they have been a rousing success. In the time since Cat Town Cafe has opened, the euthanasia rate for sheltered cats has decreased from 42% to under 7%. Not only is the space fun, but it was created by people from a city deeply rooted in community; who knew that this particular community would be devoted to cats and those who care for them?
Sure, cat cafes have been a fast growing fad in the United States in the past few years, but Cat Town Cafe is showing that they can be much bigger than that. Having gone from an organization of two dozen volunteers, starting with no business plan and no loans, to now having over 200 volunteers and over 450 adoptions through the café alone, it’s their mission that allows them to be so successful. Out of all this, Cat Town Cafe really is, in Adam Myatt’s words, ‘a weird, fun Disneyland for cats, but there is a lot of work we’re putting in that’s life-saving.’
Cat Town Café, 2869 Broadway, Oakland, CA, USA +1 510 891 1100