Running a cafe or restaurant is hard work. I know this partly from waiting tables for four years at a San Francisco diner during college. A cafe or restaurant also has a lower profit margin than a lot of small businesses, so starting one is not for the faint of heart. Just the same, it can be fun and rewarding work (especially for a flirty social animal such as myself), and also a type of community service, if you will. Placed high in my “One Day I’d Like To” list is running a coffeehouse where folks can get caffeinated, have a bite, and feel like heady, witty, astute, well-read intellectuals involved with creating culture in their community.
I recently interviewed Courtney Hatt, co-founder of KitTea, which aims to be San Francisco’s first cat cafe. Her partners in the venture are David Braginksy and Benjamin Stingle, who’s also her fianc├®. (You can read the first part of that interview here.) Given my fascination with the food-service industry and cats, I also asked her several questions about the mechanics of running the business and some details about the animals, which you can read below.
First, though, here’s some good news. KitTea is more than halfway to its crowdfunding goal of $50,000. As of Tuesday, March 18, the amount donated had surpassed $34,000 with 17 days to go.
Here, then, is part two of my interview with Courtney Hatt. (The artwork featured below is by Orlando Angel; it will be featured on the KitTea website Facebook page and possibly business cards.)
The Cat Dandy: What are your thoughts on the crowdfunding campaign?
Courtney Hatt: I think it’s going really well, and folks have been incredibly generous and supportive. That’s not to say I am a bit nervous to meet our goal. However, I am nervous by nature, so that’s not saying much!
What can you say about the time and resources you’ve devoted to opening the cafe? I imagine it’s a lot of work.
It is a lot of work, but it’s so much fun! I love anything that is not only challenging, but also hands-on and social. I love that this feels like such a community effort vs. an isolated project that takes place in front of my computer. Myself and my fianc├®, Benjamin, are putting all of our efforts into KitTea, which means long hours and a lot of hustle. I should also mention that our community manager, Hannah Simon, is not only talented at what she does, but also reliable and clever. Her passion to get KitTea off the ground and expecting nothing in return is almost unheard of these days! She even has a full-time job.
Will you allow dogs in the cafe (including service dogs)?
In short, no. Service dogs are allowed to join a patron who is just visiting the tea service area, but not inside of the cat space. That would just be too stressful on our resident cats. My hope is that people will be understanding of that.
I know it’s rare for people to take their cats out in the same way people do with dogs, but will you allow other cats in the cafe?
I think that a bring your own cat (BYOC) option would be too chaotic to manage. A cat’s instinct is to be territorial and when a new cat comes into her space without any prior and slow introduction, it could be disastrous. Not to mention, we would need to protect our indoor felines from disease and illness.
What if a famous cat such as Lil Bub or Grumpy Cat wanted to visit? Could you make special arrangements? Might you ask them to visit?
We are hoping to come up with a system for the occasional special visitor, which would include celebrity cats. However, this will take some planning and thought to make it safe and not stressful for anyone involved.
There’s a chance that patrons might not know how to engage with a cat (or some might do something that makes the cats scared or uncomfortable without meaning to). There’s also a chance that someone might attempt to steal a cat. Have you thought about such issues and what you’ll do if they happen?
Yes, we have played with “worst-case scenarios” quite a bit. To help avoid the problems you stated above, our cat space will be managed by two or more very qualified and trained staff members, who will monitor the cats and even our human friends. We will be watching the double door exit to be sure that no kitty escapes, or gets “catnapped.”
We will also keep a watchful eye on suspicious or potentially negative interactions between humans and felines. We will set ground rules and best practices for making friends with a cat, which will provided on each table or seat at KitTea. Our feline behaviorist Daniel will help us create these regulations. We don’t want to seem too strict and distrusting, we just want to keep our cats safe and comfortable so we can all thrive and keep the space peaceful and happy.
Do any of you have experience working in or running a cafe?
Benjamin’s education was in neuroscience at Harvard, and David studied computer science at Stanford. Neither has worked in a cafe or restaurant, but they both have a serious connection with cafe culture! Benjamin has spent more time in some cafes than their baristas.
I have worked in the food service industry on and off quite a bit. I have been a barista, hostess, server, caterer, and even a bartender. These jobs were some of the best times I have ever had at work, because they were active, challenging, rarely a dull moment, and you learn so much about humans!
Who will work in the cafe? The three of you, or will you hire other people? Will there be someone there to facilitate adoption or deal with behavior matters?
I will probably be the only founder who will be working at KitTea full-time. Myself and the other team members that will work in the cat oasis will be trained to look for signs of stress, pain, or illness. Cats can be tricky, so it is important that we know the signs to look for. We will be advised by Give Me Shelter’s veterinarian and our behaviorist Daniel from GoCatGo. The rescues will manage the adoptions, but KitTea team members will help and assist in the process as well.
I see on Facebook and LInkedIn that you’ve worked in design and marketing. How does that inform what you’re doing at KitTea?
I hope I’ve developed better critical and creative thinking — especially from working for startups that have almost zero resources to put into their marketing efforts. This bootstrapping background has been great preparation for all the jumping through hoops that KitTea involves. Marketing for startups has also taught me to be a good team player, practical and aware of all the ways something can break. I’ve also built up a lot of determination — I am like a Border Collie trying to get a tennis ball from under the fridge.
Do you have any other experience with animals or business that informs your work with KitTea?
I volunteered for shelters when I lived in Los Angeles. I either helped walk dogs or I fostered. I was very involved with the pet community in West Hollywood; I ran my own dog-walking and pet-sitting company just so I could be around animals while still being able to put food on my plate!
Have you thought about art for the cafe yet? Might it be cat-themed? Would you open the walls to the work of local artists, like some cafes do?
We have some fun ideas for artwork to be displayed in our tea service space, but it will be a secret for now.
In what San Francisco neighborhoods are you searching?
We are very open-minded, but we have mostly been searching in Hayes Valley, Lower Haight, the Mission, Inner Sunset and parts of SoMa.
Would you contribute to opening a cat cafe? Have you? Have you been to one? Do you drink tea or coffee around your cat? Talk to us in the comments!
Cat Dandy says tea is cool with cats:
About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is senior editor at Catster and Dogster.