“See that blue cat over there?” Jacques Casimir, co-owner of Blue Cat Cafe in Austin, Texas, asks me with a hint of pride in his voice. “That’s Big Sexy.”
Big Sexy is indeed big and sexy. At eight years of age and almost 20 pounds, he carries his girth with ease and confidence. We watch as he plops himself onto a coffee table and backs his wide hips between smiling customers, akin to a tractor trailer going in reverse.
His eyes chase the younger cats, all waiting to be adopted just like Big Sexy, as they prance and dart through the brightly colored cafe. Is he laughing at their youthful ignorance, or is he mesmerized by the shiny ball three feet from the table? We may never know.
Casimir confides in me that he hopes Big Sexy will be a permanent fixture at the cafe, alongside Gollum, a sandy-colored, green-eyed fluffball with folded ears, and Balthazar, a soothing tabby who enjoys nesting on customers’ notebooks. But if Big Sexy doesn’t become the third den parent, he will inevitably go home with a loving family.
Blue Cat Cafe is the brainchild of Rebecca Gray, a cat enthusiast who was inspired by America’s first feline coffee shop, Oakland’s Cat Town Cafe. Though cat cafes have been popular in Japan for the past ten years, they’ve only recently popped up in North America. Since 2014, 10 cafes have opened their doors in cities such as New York City, Seattle, Denver and Washington D.C., and according to Eater, more are on the horizon.
After completing a successful Kickstarter campaign in April of 2015, Rebecca joined forces with Jacques Casimir, a startup veteran and cat lover who was featured on Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell. The show’s host, Jackson Galaxy, and cat style expert, Kate Benjamin, offered their services in the catification of the cafe. The modestly-size building features a DIY highway of wooden planks, hammocks, a dangling sky box and lengthy artificial tree for the cats to climb on, while Japanese-style pods and a hollowed-out drum kit serve as resting places on the floor.
But what about the smell? you may be asking yourself. Thanks to an intricate air filtration system, the eau de cat or cat poop is hard to come by. “I’ve had people who are allergic to cats tell me they couldn’t tell for 30 minutes that cats were in this room,” Casimir explains. The cats access the adjacent litter room through holes in the walls, and employees are regularly cleaning tabletops and sweeping the floor.
In order for the actual cafe portion to work, food is prepared in an exterior food trailer and handed to the customer through a doorway connecting the cafe to the main check-in area. The animal-friendly menu features Texas classics such as brisket (affectionately known as “BrisCat”) and frito pie.
“That cat’s head is wider than its butt,” I say to Jacques. “Yep, Adrian’s collar setting is on the last notch,” he confirms. Adrian is black and white with short fur. He mostly sleeps in his stakeout near the couch, but right now he’s scavenging the cafe for something or someone to play with. He finds a rainbow-colored worm and immediately grabs a hold and collapses onto his back. He pats it above his chest with fervor, only acknowledging his immediate surroundings as I lean in to take a picture.
Nearby, Gollum wanders through the drum kit, having just left his perch from the sky box. He stares with his beautiful, large green eyes at his surroundings, customers clamoring over his unique coloring and anime features. It is only then that I realize the cats are not performing for us; we’re performing for them. Everyone in the room desperately wants the cats’ attentions. We call, we reach out, we get down on our hands and knees.
We all want them to love us.
Blue Cat Cafe is partnered with the Austin Humane Society. At any time, the cafe has 20–25 cats available for adoption. They’re selected based on adoptability, and the cafe has already found homes for six cats in the six days they’ve been in business. Their goal is to find forever homes for 300 cats in the first year. The staff pays close attention to the cats’ needs and preferences, enabling them to offer advice on bedding and food types to new parents.
In the cafe’s short existence, reviews have been positive. Curious families, giddy couples and freelancers with laptops rotate throughout the day, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. Not everyone is a fan though; on opening day, the cafe faced protesters angry over their use of an empty lot that was once the home of a family-owned pinata store. In early 2015, Jordan French and Darius Fisher, the owners of the property that Blue Cat Cafe uses as a parking lot, demolished the long-standing East Austin business Jumpolin overnight, without letting the tenants remove their inventory. The pinata store has since reopened and a litigation is pending between Jumpolin’s owners and French and Fisher, but the property is still a tender spot for some in the community.
The day after I interviewed Jacques, I came back to the cat cafe. I wanted to be in the calming presence of these little furry creatures, to brush my hand along their backs as they strutted past my chair. Interacting with cats is known to lower blood pressure, stress and anxiety, and I found myself, a lifelong dog lover, happy to surrender to their charms.
As I watched Big Sexy parade the room, his slow pace suggesting total tranquility, I thought to myself, I should have every work meeting here from now on. We could learn a thing or two from these cats.