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There’s a good chance that a cat cafe is coming to a city near you.

In cities all over the United States, cat-loving entrepreneurs are frantically pushing crowdfunding campaigns, locking down deals with adoption centers and coffee vendors and coaxing anxious landlords and health inspectors with hopes of capitalizing on a new craze by opening a feline-friendly restaurant of their own.

Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, California is the first and only permanent space of its kind in the United States right now — but it just barely launched in time to claim the distinction. Similar businesses are set to open soon in San Francisco (KitTea), Portland (Purringtons), Los Angeles (Catfe), Denver, (Catco) San Diego and Seattle (Meowtropolitan). A quick Indiegogo search reveals that many more are in the works, and several pop-up cat cafes have been hugely successful.

The concept is a cross between an adoption center and a coffee shop, where people can either make reservations or walk in and have a cup of coffee and a pastry while lounging with a lineup of adoptable cats. The trend started in Japan, where more than a hundred such establishments exist (not to mention “rabbit cafes” and at least one “goat cafe“).

Cat Town Cafe opened its doors in downtown Oakland last Saturday and founders Adam Myatt and Ann Dunn told Mashable they have been blown away by the amount of attention it has gotten in just the first week. Reservations for opening weekend were completely booked up two weeks in advance, and the second and third weekends filled up shortly after.

The cafe is split into two separate spaces: one is a food preparation area and counter where patrons can order coffee, tea, sandwiches or pastries before entering an elaborate play area complete with cat-sized replicas of city icons and murals featuring famous cats of pop culture. The lounge area allows a limited number of customers to interact with six to 12 cats at a time, who have the option of slipping away to a cats-only area if the adoration gets overwhelming.


Image: Patrick Kulp/Mashable

The duo hardly knew each other when they first decided to take on the venture during a casual chat at a local coffee shop around this time last year. Dunn founded a non-profit rescue organization three years ago called Cat Town that places cats in foster homes, and Myatt, also known as the “Cat Man of West Oakland” for his wildly popular cat photography, had just returned from a trip to Japan, where he was fascinated by the country’s “crazy cat culture.”

“I’ve always been an animal person — not necessarily just a cat person — but cats seem to be the dominating force in my life right now,” Myatt said. “If that’s what the universe has got for me then I’ll go with that.”

They were able to raise $40,000 through an Indiegogo campaign and $20,000 from Pet Food Express, in addition to various private donations and grants. While the city of Oakland had some concerns about the project initially, Myatt said they were able to work with regulators to ensure the operation was fit for health codes.


Image: Patrick Kulp/Mashable

Cat Town’s primary mission is to find homes for cats that are least likely to get adopted in a shelter environment, often because they are “extremely shy, sick or old,” Dunn said. The idea, she said, is that people are more likely to adopt in a setting like a cat cafe because they are comfortable that the cats are in a good environment; whereas at a shelter, potential rescuers can get overwhelmed and depressed.

“It’s getting the cats exposure that they wouldn’t otherwise get,” Dunn said. “There’s just so much psychology to it.”

Still, Dunn said that simultaneously running a cafe and taking care of that number of cats can be hugely stressful, and if not for the exponential increase in interest her organization has gotten because of it, she would much rather simply place the cats in people’s homes.

“Sometimes I think it’s a lot to put the cats through, but if it means they will be adopted more quickly, then it seems worth doing,” Dunn said. “If we were just opening an adoption center, people would have been like, ‘so what?'”

Myatt warned any aspiring cat cafe proprietors that the business model is not for the faint of heart.

“People don’t realize that running a cafe is hard and takes a shit ton of work…and then there’s cats,” Myatt said. “It’s like running two crazy businesses that take a lot of time and attention.”

Already, the restaurant has proven a popular addition to Oakland’s downtown. Danielle Silva, an Oakland resident who lives just down the street from the building, said she is amazed by the amount of care and hard work the founders have put into keeping the cafe running.

“It’s incredible. I’ve asked them multiple times if I could just live here,” Silva said