The buzz around cat cafes in Canada was huge throughout 2014, and hit its peak in late August, when the first feline friendly cafe served it’s first cup of coffee in Montreal. The Caf├® des Chats was heralded as the first cat cafe in North America, and less than a month later, the city got a second cat cafe, Caf├® Chat l’heureux. While cat lovers in Montreal now have two places where they can enjoy the company of kitties while enjoying a cup of coffee, the rest of Canada is sadly cat cafeless.
The lack of cat cafes outside outside Montreal isn’t for a lack of trying. Several entrepreneurs have been trying to get cat cafes off the ground but have been running into red tape and roadblocks in the country’s biggest cities.
Toronto’s Jen Morozowich has been trying to turn her Kitty Cat Caf├® from dream to reality, but is having a very difficult time securing space in the T-Dot.
"The landlords that are accepting of the idea are offering incredibly expensive places that are over $10,000 a month to rent," explains Morozowich, who has been trying to track down a spot with more reasonable rent.
She says that has proven to be nearly impossible as landlord after landlord rejects the cat cafe idea, telling Morozowich they need to protect nearby residential tenants (and future residential tenants) who may have allergies.
"Most of the commercial spaces are set up with apartments overhead," says Morozowich, who adds that the cat cafes in Montreal didn’t face the same problem as it’s less common to have residential apartments positioned over commercial space in that city.
Morozowich says the appetite for a cat cafe exists in Toronto, even if the appropriate real estate doesn’t.
The Kitty Cat Caf├® raised $5,565 during an Indiegogo campaign between April and June 2014. The campaign received plenty of media attention as Morozowich and her former business partner moved forward with plans for the cafe, which included housing adoptable rescue cats in the space. Much was written about Kitty Cat Caf├® and rival Pet Me Meow, which hosted a pop-up cat cafe over the summer, but also has yet to announce a permanent location.
While Morozowich welcomed the publicity, the projected opening dates for the Kitty Cat Caf├® reported in the media have come and gone, resulting in some confusion for would-be customers.
"I actually receive calls from people visiting to from the UK and other places asking for the address," she explains.
Unfortunately, without a space confirmed, plans for the Kitty Cat Caf├® remain on hold.
"At this point we’re aiming for spring, but who knows," says Morozowich.
Across the country in Vancouver, cat entrepreneur Michelle Furbacher is facing similar challenges when it comes to finding a commercial space to combine kitties and coffee. Her project, Catfe, is supported by an enthusiastic construction and design collective who have plenty of ideas for the cafe, but nowhere to build it.
"Sadly, negotiations just recently fell through on a space we were pretty excited about," says Furbacher. "So we are back to scouring Vancouver for the perfect location."
Furbacher says the same real estate problems preventing cat cafes from coming to Toronto are delaying her launch in Vancouver.
"It’s the same here — many landlords are not receptive to having cats living in their space. On top of that, Vancouver has some complicated and vague zoning by-laws that it’s taken some time to wrap our heads around."
Furbacher says the shape of the space needs to be specific to accommodate health department requirements, and finding the right balance between that specific shape, an accommodating landlord and zoning has been a challenge.
In addition to her personal investment and additional funding secured from private investors, a crowdfunding campaign brought in more than $32,000.
"The crowdfunding gave us the boost we needed and the confidence that Vancouver wants this to happen."
"I get a lot of questions about when we are opening on a regular basis," Furbacher explains. "All I can say at the moment is we are working on it. There is a lot of excitement and community that has been building and gaining momentum behind Catfe, and all we need now is to find the right space."
The cat cafe craze obviously extends beyond Canada, and Furbacher believes the U.S. West Coast is becoming a cat cafe haven.
"I know of at least six others that are popping up along the coast — next year we’ll be able to road trip all the way down to San Diego and hit a cat cafe in every major city."
Despite the challenges, both Furbacher and Morozowich are optimistic about the future of cat cafes in Canada. Furbacher suggests potential entrepreneurs look to existing cat cafe establishments for inspiration.
"My advice is to visit as many existing cat cafes as you can," she says. "I’ve been to a few in Europe, and the two that opened recently in Montreal, and all of the owners I’ve met were so friendly and open to giving advice. They all do things a little differently — there is something to be learned from each of them."
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About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +