The idea of the cat café seems almost like divine inspiration. After all, what could be more perfect than lounging on a couch with a cup of coffee and one of nature’s most delightfully lazy creatures? About two years ago, Sandy Cagan was struck with a similar sense of kismet when she saw a serendipitous news story on the last day of 2014.
“It was a report on a cat café that had opened in New York,” Cagan says. “The story stayed with me for several days. I was turning 50 in 2015, so that was a big watershed year for me. People talk about doing what you love and following your passion, and well into the first week of January I thought this was something I could do.”
With a full-time gig in property management and development, Cagan had the necessary experience to operate the business end of the Orlando Cat Café. She didn’t want it to feel like a “mom and pop shop,” though, so she set out to find experienced partners who could manage the establishment’s coffee and kitty aspects.
Right away, the Animal League, a no-kill shelter in Groveland, Florida, got on board. Open since 1988, the Animal League adopts out approximately 100 cats and dogs each month, making the organization an ideal and well-established partner for the cat café.
Finding a coffee partner proved to be trickier. Cagan met with several prospective partners who “didn’t really get the concept,” she says – but everyone kept recommending Axum Coffee in Winter Garden, Florida. Once Cagan got in touch with the hard-to-reach owner, they both realized their missions aligned.
“Axum is named after a city in Ethiopia that doesn’t have clean drinking water, and the owner of Axum donates his profits back to this village,” Cagan explains. “This was a natural fit for him – he had never done anything with the animal community. He came on board, and this has been a great partnership between the three of us, because we’re all working toward a common goal and understand what we’re trying to do here.”
The community has shown a strong response to the cafe as well. Since opening in September, Orlando Cat Café has had more than 4,000 visitors – including more than 2,000 in its first three weeks alone. It has also adopted out some 23 cats. According to Cagan said she visited several cat cafes in the United States and overseas that did not feature adoptable cats, but that component was important to her and her partners.
Cagan believes the atmosphere has a lot to do with their high adoption numbers. The large, comfortable space is filled with lots of toys and places for cats to sleep and climb, creating a fun experience for potential adopters and kitties alike. Anywhere from 12 to 18 cats live in the café at a time, where they stay until they are adopted.
“It’s sort of like the kitty Four Seasons for them,” Cagan says. “I was blessed to be there the day the Animal League brought in our first batch of kitties, and they were immediately at home – it was unbelievable. I think it’s a really relaxed atmosphere – certainly more relaxed than a shelter. You can see the cat in a more natural environment. You can play with them and get a really good picture of their personality. It’s been a really nice adoption number, and it’s been pretty steady. That’s been very gratifying.”
For anyone wishing to open a cat café of their own, Cagan points out that it can be a long process, but for her the partnerships with the Animal League and Axum Coffee have been essential.
“I’m not getting up every morning and wondering if we have enough coffee creamer in stock, because someone else is running that coffee shop,” she says. “I’m also not worried about a kitty coming in who’s not feeling well because I have a strong partner who’s handling the kitties, which frees me up to run the business.”
That business, though, contributes to Cagan’s true mission, which is helping homeless cats find homes.
“When I see it, it almost brings me to tears, because that’s what I got into this for,” she says. “In my 37 years of having cats, I know how much joy and happiness they have brought me every day of my life and of their lives. If I can be just a small part of bringing happiness and joy by helping someone get a feline family member – that is what it’s all about.”