Cat cafe for Kalamazoo moves closer to opening its doors with location near campuses

When Abbey Thompson tells people she is opening a cat cafe this summer the response is often, “Ooh. My cat would love that.” Thompson wants you to know that her cafe will come complete with its own cats, so she respectfully asks you to please leave your beloved kitty at home.

What she is creating is a place for people and rescue cats to mingle. And maybe enough bonding that the people will want to adopt the kitties. All her cats will be adoptable through Cat Nap Lodge in Richland. 

K’zoo Cat Cafe will be a first for the city, but there are several others in Michigan and a growing number of cat cafes have been operating across the United States for about two years. The original cat cafe opened to customers in Taiwan in 1998, then the first Japanese cat cafe opened its doors in Osaka in 2004. The idea took off in Japan where pets often are not allowed in homes. Since then cat cafes have opened around the world. 

In Japan, where reportedly there are more than 150 cat cafes, the cats often stay in a single cafe for many years. In the United Sates, the concept has morphed into a way to introduce people to cats who need a home. The concept arrived in the United States in 2014 at the Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, Calif.

Thompson, a lifelong cat lover with two rescue cats — Gus and Ollie— at home, learned of the idea through a YouTube video of a young boy finding a cat that would become his pet at a cat cafe. She became determined to experience one for herself. After a disappointment in London, she finally visited one in Australia (“It was like heaven”) and became convinced that opening a cat cafe of her own was what she wanted to do. She went on to visit a few closer to home, including one in her previous hometown of Madison, Wisc., one at a conference she attended in Texas, and a couple of those now open in Michigan. 

She says that since her Australia visit, opening the cat cafe has been all she’s talked about. Visits to already opened cafes provided her with the information she needed on how to run a cat cafe that is good for both people and cats, plus she got to spend time with cats. She has spoken with consultants and has researched food laws, health codes, and animal shelters. The challenge is that there is not a lot of precedence in this kind of business. 

She is currently working with the city building inspectors and Michigan Department of Agriculture regulators to make sure all the requirements will be followed in order to have a space where beverages and snacks are available along with the cats. Meetings with the health department and the Michigan Department of Agriculture are all part of the work that has to be done before the cafe can open its doors.

“Doing it right is our No. 1 priority,” Thompson says.

Thompson’s idea to bring a cat cafe to Kalamazoo got closer to reality with the success of a Kickstarter campaign. She raised $15,721 — $721 over her goal. Another milestone was reached with the location of a space for the cafe, next door to Jimmy John’s on West Michigan Avenue and within walking distance of both Kalamazoo College and WMU campuses.

Thompson says that once the business gets up and running she expects to have about 10 cats at the cafe and, with time, may have as many as 20. The goal is that the cats will be adopted quickly as they will be getting more exposure than they currently do at the rescue. Ultimately, more cats will be able to be rescued if cats are adopted more quickly.

The cafe also won’t have fancy coffee drinks served by baristas. Patrons will pay a fee as they enter and select their snack and beverage. It will be self-serve, probably from a Keurig machine. And it will be open for limited hours, evenings and weekends, in the beginning. Thompson will be keeping her day job as a residence hall director for the department of student affairs at Western Michigan University while the business builds.

She will be seeking volunteers to help with kitty care and also those who will be willing to help out at Cat Nap Lodge, working with owner Joni Kelley. As Thompson explains on her Kickstarter page the cats and kittens “have all been rescued from unsafe or unhealthy situations, treated by Dr. Ruey Stocking at the Red Barn Cat Clinic, loved and socialized by devoted Cat Nap Lodge Volunteers and made ready for forever homes of their own.” 

Thompson and her business partner Rob Towner estimate that the money raised through the Kickstarter campaign may be enough to make the renovations to the cafe and pay rent for about six months, though how far the money actually goes depends on the final cost of the renovations.

The success of the Kickstarter campaign was encouraging to Thompson as it showed there was interest in the concept. She envisions students studying and hanging out with the cats. And she plans to build the business with events designed to bring people to the cafe, such as game night and cat yoga, where people do yoga as cats climb around and on them. 

With so much to do, so far there is no firm opening date, so those interested in hanging out with the cats should watch the K’zoo Cat Cafe page on Facebook.

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.
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