Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

UT alumna plans to open Austin’s first cat café

Daulton Venglar

Up until a couple of years ago, Rebecca Gray spent her days as a biologist testing mice in labs — and her nights discovering the world of cat cafés. 

“I saw and knew immediately I wanted to work in a cat café or open a cat café,” Gray said. “I put it out of my mind because it just seemed so unattainable.”

Unhappy and uninspired with her biology career, the UT alumna finally decided to move back to Austin to pursue the unlikely task of opening Austin’s first cat-centric restaurant — Blue Cat Café. Gray plans to open her doors before the end of 2015. To raise money for the café, Gray will launch a Kickstarter campaign next week. 

Gray said she valued her time working in a lab, but she said she ultimately feels she can do more good in the world by pursuing her passion.

“We need doctors and vets, but, if you’re not happy, you’re not going to contribute something that is going to move that whole field along,” Gray said. “I’m not saying I’m building a field of cat cafés, but do what you want to do.” 

The world’s first restaurant-meets-adoption facilities popped up in Japan about 10 years ago. The cafés provide a space for customers to eat a meal while spending time playing with adoptable animals. Gray said cultural taboos surrounding eating near animals kept cat cafés out of the Western hemisphere. Gray remembers hearing news of the first café opening in North America late one night on NPR.

“My stomach dropped,” Gray said. “I was like, ‘Oh man — this thing is coming.”

Gray said one concern she faced when planning the café was the possibility of health code violations — she needed to adhere to codes while still allowing cats to roam around. To solve the problem, Gray said she intends to break up Blue Cat Café into two “zones.” The first zone is the cat roaming area, where customers can interact however they please. 

“If you want to just read a book, you can,” Gray said. “If you want to just study, you can. If you want to put a feather in their face and play, you can. It’s pet therapy, and it’s whatever you need.”

The second zone will be reserved for eating. The outdoor patio will be home to a number of vegan food trucks. Gray said food truck partnerships are in the early stages, but her ultimate goal is to provide healthy, socially conscious food.

“This is a place where we love animals, so we can’t eat them,” Gray said.  

The biggest misconception Gray wants to correct is the idea customers can bring their own cats.

“Your cat doesn’t want to come, trust me,” Gray said. “Honestly, this place will be cat first and you later — because I want to take care of the cats.”  

Gray, a self-proclaimed “crazy cat lady,” said she urges customers to stave off any preconceived notions of what it means to be crazy in love with your cat. Dan Maxwell, Gray’s business consultant and former boss, believes this positive attitude will make Gray a successful business owner.

“She’s just crazy enough about cats to make everyone else feel normal,” Maxwell said. “When you do that, you open the door for everyone else who’s maybe bashful about how much they want to be around cats.” 

When UT advertising graduate Fatima Jafri visited a cat café in Hong Kong, the cafe’s clean and inviting atmosphere struck her. Jafri said she believes Blue Cat Café will thrive in Austin’s inclusive environment.  

“Austin is a city known for all its odd things to do,” Gray said. “I think [Blue Cat Café] is a great thing to add to its roster of strange things.”

Whether customers visit Blue Cat Café for temporary cat-therapy or with adoption in mind, Gray said she hopes all will enjoy the connections they make with cats and with each other. 

“My greatest hope is that everyone that walks in, walks out a little bit happier,” Gray said. “A little bit more uplifted and ready to do the thing that makes them happy.”

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UT alumna plans to open Austin’s first cat café