What did it take for Atlanta to open its first cat cafe? A location, a goal, a drive to do good and the energy to cut through red tape. And some adorable, adoptable cats, of course. Hadyn Hilton, along with her charitable partners, checked all the boxes. The 26-year-old founder of Java Cats not only opened a cat cafe in Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood, but she is also about to launch a second location. “My passion for animal rescue, TNR education and increasing adoption rates was the driving force for my decision to take the risk,” says Hadyn about the dream that came to her as a Georgia State University senior.
The risk has turned into a reward not only for Hadyn but for the 247 cats rehomed from PAWS Atlanta, a no-kill animal shelter in Georgia that supplies 20 cats at a time to Java Cats, since it opened in March 2017. Helping homeless cats has been a priority since Hadyn’s early years.
She took in a cat that her neighbors had abandoned. Hadyn describes the cat, whom she named Cream, as “the most significant influence for my adoration for cats.”
Her parents said they already had too many cats — their own, plus the TNRd and cared-for colony of 16 to 20 cats that lived at their house on 5 acres. She took a chance (we see a pattern emerging) and was able to keep Cream unnoticed by her parents for three months. Cream came with Hadyn when she went away to college and is still her close companion/tight friend.
“We have such a sweet bond, and I honestly can’t imagine my life without her,” Hadyn says.
Hadyn’s heart has room for helping more than cats. Java Cats partners with local nonprofit Gathering Industries, which employs the Atlanta homeless population and teaches members culinary arts so that people coming out of the program might find jobs in the restaurant industry. The group works in a kitchen where they prepare all of Java Cats off-site and prepackaged food.
“We have fresh blueberry scones (they always sell out!) that have been featured by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, vegan granola bars, cookies and other treats,” Hadyn tells us. “Helping homeless cats and homeless people all in the same place!”
While all of this — not to mention the exposure Hadyn gives local artists by featuring their cat-themed work on Java Cats’ walls — sounds like a no-brainer, Hadyn ran into obstacles when pitching the idea to the city.
“There has been struggle all along the way, so you can say I’ve learned a lot! The most significant challenge was obtaining permitting. The city wasn’t familiar with the concept of having cats in a cafe, so we had to conform to an idea the city was comfortable with. A lot of people come in expecting cats to be running around everywhere, and once they realize they are separate, sometimes people get upset. Unfortunately, the city requires us not to serve house-made food on-site and for the cats to be strictly separated.”
She now passes along her business insight by speaking at young girls’ empowerment organizations such as Girls Inc. Hadyn even uses her location to provide resources and classroom education for local entrepreneurs.
The hard work and hope has paid off for the young entrepreneur, the outreach groups she’s aligned with and, especially, for the main attraction: cute cats in need of homes.
Anastasia Thrift has covered cat news and lifestyle topics for eight years. She has two cats, Killer and Linc.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Catster magazine delivered straight to you!