Stopping in to pick up an Americano and an American shorthair could soon be a one-stop proposition with the opening of Chicago’s first cat cafe.
The City Council recently approved an ordinance Wednesday enabling Tree House Humane Society to launch a combined coffee shop and cat adoption center in a $6 million facility set to open in the West Rogers Park neighborhood by early fall.
This cafe will feature a full coffee bar and an adjacent cat lounge where a dozen or more felines will roam, sleep, play and ignore people sipping their lattes and caramel macchiatos. Free coffeehouse Wi-Fi will also be available.
Popular overseas, the cat cafe concept continues to gain steam since migrating to the U.S. two years ago, offering patrons a chance to chill in a coffeehouse setting that falls somewhere between domestic tranquility and cat-lady crazy.
“Ideally it’s a draw to get people into the facility, to help get more cats adopted,” said Tree House Executive Director Dave de Funiak. “In the end, if it becomes a popular thing and it can generate some revenue, then that revenue will go right back into our programs.”
Founded back in 1971 as one of the nation’s first no-kill cat shelters, nonprofit Tree House is building the 15,000-square-foot, two-story facility on North Western Avenue that will house about 150 cats, de Funiak said. The idea to include a cat cafe did require a new ordinance.
“The main issue is separation of the serving area and the cats,” de Funiak said. “It’s a potential danger for the cats, and the Health Department has pretty strict limitations on food and beverages being made in a place that also has animals.”
Tree House enlisted Ald. Debra Silverstein, 50th, who introduced an ordinance that not only grants Tree House permission, but also paves the way for other animal shelters to open cat and possibly even dog cafes.
“There was nothing like this in the city,” Silverstein said. “Considering that you’re talking about something that you’re consuming, we just wanted to make sure everything was legal and safe.”
Tree House, which also provides spay and neuter services, is now looking to double its annual adoption rate of 1,000 cats per year through the new facility and the cat cafe. Given the popularity of other cat cafes, that may soon all be within reach.
Cat Town, a nonprofit shelter in Oakland, Calif., saw its adoption rate more than double just after opening arguably the first stateside cat cafe in October 2014. The cafe serves coffee, bagels and other goodies, with an adjacent cat zone, which is usually home to about 20 cats. The human population is limited to just 10 at a time, which means reservations are suggested, and walk-ins are sometimes turned away.
“There was just this big explosion of growth since we opened the cat cafe,” said Adam Myatt, 29, Cat Town Cafe co-founder.
Myatt said the cat cafe’s popularity has led to growing pains and a few mishaps, but no one seems to be crying over spilled lattes.
“We’ve had a couple of spills in the cat zone, nothing where coffee got spilled on a cat or anything,” Myatt said. “People have been scratched and stuff, but for the most part everyone is fine with that. They’re entering into this place filled with cats; that’s an inherent risk in the space.”
Tree House is also using a calculation of about 20 square feet of space per cat, which would allow about a dozen cats to hang with the coffee crowd in the 300-square-foot lounge. “If there are too many cats living in one area, it could create stress,” de Funiak said.
De Funiak is more apprehensive about running an actual coffee shop than the mingling of patrons with roaming cats, which has long been their cage-less business model. He said long-term plans may include a walk-up window or possibly a drive-through coffee service, but cat adoption itself will still require a visit inside the establishment.
Steve Dale, a syndicated radio host and Tree House board member who led the cafe project, said marrying coffee and cat lovers may just prove to be a boon for the shelter, and a tourist attraction for the neighborhood. Turning the curious into regular customers, however, will definitely require proper execution and attention to some unsavory details.
“We will have litter boxes there and yes, they will be scooped regularly,” Dale said.