In 2014, Danielle Rasmussen – long a cat lover and cat owner – attended the Twin Cities’ annual Cat Video Festival.
So did 10,000 other people.
When Rasmussen heard the numbers, it was the final convincing she needed.
"I thought: ‘The Twin Cities need a cat cafe,’” she said. “The interest was obviously there. That pushed us into serious mode.”
Now, that early vision – one she and partner Jessica Burge had already been mulling for months – is finally coming to fruition. The Cafe Meow, the Twin Cities’ first cat cafe, is debuting in Uptown with a grand opening on Friday.
“Cats are wonderful but people don’t really have a public place to explore that interest or enjoyment,” Rasmussen said. “There are dog parks, and people can bring their dogs onto patios and now there are even breweries where people can bring them. Cats don’t travel as well, but it’s really important for cat people to have a place like this.”
In case you’re wondering why cat people are so passionate about cats anyway, Rasmussen has an easy answer.
“I don’t know, they’re just so cute – have you ever looked at one?” she asked.
Consider us smitten with kittens.
But the concept of animals and food/drink as a business plan – a trend that exploded in Japan and has in recent years spread throughout the U.S. – seems complicated. And smelly?
So how does a cat cafe even happen?
Well, somewhat slowly. First came the battle for the appropriate licensing. Cafe Meow has two separate licenses: one for the coffeeshop side, which is classified as a restaurant, and one for the cat side – which is separated by walls and a set of double doors, and classified as a pet shop. Rasmussen and Burge also had to acquire a kennel license – and started a community petition to avoid being classified as an animal shelter, which would have affected the kind of facility they could open in.
But the support was clearly there, early. After starting a Facebook page a few years ago, the idea garnered 5,000 likes before Rasmussen and Burge had even found a location. They signed the lease at 2323 Hennepin Av. S. in October – in a former video game store – and the interest has ballooned.
When the cafe let the cat out of the bag about its debut, more than 9,000 Facebook users expressed interest in the furry fervor.
Here’s how it works: Cats join the cafe from three different rescue organizations around the Twin Cities. Cafe Meow can take 15 at one time. If cafegoers want to adopt a cat, Cafe Meow will connect them with the appropriate rescue organizations. Cats staying at the cafe will live in that space, which is built out with custom cat furniture, full-time.
“Just think of us as a foster home,” Rasmussen said. "We just wanted to show off cats that wouldn't have the exposure otherwise and give them a chance to find a good home."
Now that's the Cat's Meow.
As for the, ahem, litter boxes, they’ll be hidden – inside custom cubbies that patrons likely won’t notice. The cat-loving baristas will split their time between working on the cafe side and working on the cat side.
That means sweeping and mopping pre- and post-shift on the cafe side, and, well, cleaning out those litter boxes on the cat side.
Patrons can purchase coffee drinks, hot teas and pastry items in the cafe – yes, there will be cat-shaped macarons and cat cupcakes – then take them over to the cat side if they wish, for a fee of $10. Since Cafe Meow is only allowing between 10 to 15 people in the cat room at a single time, reservations are encouraged. Already, Cafe Meow’s one-hour slots are all sold out for Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this weekend. Some room will be left for a handful of walk-ins.
Of course, there are plenty of skeptics as well, but Rasmussen and Burge have aptly blocked out the noise.
“If people have a problem with it, they don’t have to come,” she said. “I’m a vegetarian but I don’t go around bashing steakhouses.”
She’s also reiterating that the cafe side will look like just another coffee shop – a separate business albeit with the same name.
“If you just want a drink, you don’t have to go to the cat side,” Rasmussen said. “You can just come in and get a coffee.”
(Photos courtesy The Cafe Meow)