Blue Cat Cafe customers may arrive for a morning cup of coffee, but — after being greeted by over a dozen furry companions and their melodic meows — they may leave with a new household pet.
On Saturday, UT alumna Rebecca Gray hosted the grand opening of Texas’ first cat café, where patrons can enjoy their morning latte or lunch while playing with and even adopting cats.
“I learned about [cat cafes] a few years ago, and I thought it would be the perfect thing to do in Austin,” Gray said. “We put a lot into it, and, since I’ve never been to one, we just had to do what we thought was best.”
The Blue Cat Cafe charges $5 for admission, and visitors can stay as long as they want. If customers fall in love with one of the 18 cats currently in the café, they can adopt it on the spot and take it home the same day. Gray said she hopes the cats stay no longer than one or two weeks before they are adopted.
“In a way, we’re fostering them until people adopt them, so they stay here and make this their home,” Gray said.
In order to adhere to health regulations and serve food in such close proximity to animals, the Blue Cat Cafe is equipped with a few hundred pounds of carbon filters to increase air quality, so even those with cat allergies can be comfortable. The building’s ductwork is also installed with UV lights to kill germs, and the litter room is at negative pressure, so air cannot flow from the litter room to the dining area.
“We take our air quality extremely seriously,” Jacquis Casimir, Gray’s business partner, said. “If you come in here and we’re telling you to eat and it smells like a cat, you’re not going to want to eat.”
Gray said the cats’ presence at the Blue Cat Cafe is mutually beneficial, to both them and customers. Gray said cats, along with other animals, are often used for pet therapy. When people touch animals, it releases oxytocin in the brain and produces a calming, meditative effect.
“It’s emotionally connecting with an animal,” Gray said. “You’re getting therapy, and you’re socializing them when you come in here and hang out with them. It’s a win-win.”
Casimir visited his first cat cafe while visiting Japan, and when he returned to the U.S., he knew he wanted to participate in the Blue Cat Cafe. As a self-proclaimed cat-lover, Casimir said it has already proven a challenge to avoid becoming attached to the cats.
“It’s like we’re their summer camp counselors,” Casimir said. “We’re having a lot of fun, but they need to go home at the end of the summer.”
After graduating in May, UT alumna Evelyn Morgan began working in Blue Cat Cafe’s kitchen, a food truck outside the building. She prepares “gato tacos,” “catdogs” and other vegan food options. She said the Blue Cat Cafe is a welcoming, friendly environment to work in because the team all have the cats’ best interests in mind.
“Our first day of training [they asked], ‘what’s your name, what’s your role here and what did your cat do this morning?’” Morgan said.
Although the cat cafe may seem appropriate for East Austin, it’s location is under high scrutiny. The cat cafe’s parking lot was once the site of a locally-owned piñata store, Jumpolin. The store was demolished in February with all merchandise and equipment still inside after new property owners F&F Real Estate Vendors said the owners, Sergio and Monica Lejarazu, violated the terms of the lease and missed payments.
On the day of the opening, nine activists gathered outside the Blue Cat Cafe to protest its business with F&F Real Estate Vendors. UT alumnus Christopher Ledesma, who organized the protest, said cat cafe symbolizes Austin’s increasing gentrification.
“We’re upset with the cat cafe for doing business with the real estate company because they are sustaining that area,” Ledesma said. “What we’re trying to say is if people really are so concerned with gentrification — and there’s a lot of lip service paid — people need to start showing with their dollars.”
Ledesma said the community had asked the cafe owners to rethink moving onto the land but denied their requests. Casimir said he and Gray took precautions to make sure they weren’t directly affecting the Lejazarus’ case.
“We spoke with our attorneys to make sure anything we did didn’t impinge or infringe on [the Lejarazu’s] ability to seek justice and to have their day in court,” Casimir said. “We were assured that none of our activities would hinder that effect.”
Casimir said following its opening on Saturday, the Blue Cat Cafe will partner with the Austin Humane Society on Sunday for the fourth annual Mega Match-a-thon, in which the humane society waives adoption fees with the goal of giving away more than 100 cats. Gray said she wants her business to help find homes for as many cats as possible and hopes to expand in the future.
“We’ll continue to improve every day to make this place better,” Gray said. “I hope it’s doubled and tripled — one north or south or in Georgetown. I think this is a really cool concept, so I’ll put it out there.”