Purple Haze. Garbanzo. Grape Ape. Itty Bitty.
These may sound like marijuana strains but think less hot box and more litter box.
Hazy honey and Banzo baby are of the feline variety and these purrfect cats are available for adoptions at each of Denver’s cat cafes.
Denver proper is home to two cat cafes, one of the first in the U.S., Denver Cat Company in the Berkeley neighborhood and newcomer Teddy Cat Cafe in Platt Park.
But what’s a cat café? Well, it’s really in the name.
A cat café is a space where patrons can hang with cats. The first one opened in Taiwan in the late ’90s and the trend grew throughout Asia with big presences in Japan, Thailand and South Korea. Cat cafes spread to Europe and made their way to the U.S. in 2014 with the opening of KitTea Cat Lounge & Café in San Francisco.
Contrary to the name, the draw isn’t on the “café” portion. Imagine making an Americano with Grape Ape lounging on the bag of espresso beans. This isn’t a bodega.
With food safety laws, cafes need to have completely separate spaces from where the food is stored, produced and sold from where the cats use their litter boxes, unwind, nap and have their daily case of the zoomies. But that can be expensive, so the emphasis of cat cafes, especially in the U.S. tends to be about bringing awareness to cat safety and adoption.
Both the Cat Company and Teddy Cat foster furry feline friends of all varieties. Older cats, kittens, some that are shy, some that are brash, ones with medical issues and ones who are here simply to take over the world. Just kidding on that last one. Maybe.
Owners Leila Qari of Cat Company and Sarah Thomas of Teddy Cat agreed that the point of cat cafes is simple: it’s to enjoy the company of cats. And if you’re interested, you can get to know the cats and maybe take them to their fur-ever home.
“A cat cafe is a social space where you get to hang out with rescue cats who are adoptable,” Qari said. “It does really help cats a lot. We are able to do so much good just by the exposure they get. These cats are just sitting in county shelters not getting attention.”
Thomas added, “It’s a kitty hang…Even if they’re not looking to adopt, if they just want to come hang with the kitties, it’s good for them. Help socialize, love on them, get them used to people, that whole thing.”
So, how did Denver get two cat-centric cafes? Here’s a little bit on how each café got started. And FYI, cats are just like people and can get over-stimulated. If you happen to visit a café and the cats are lazier or shyer than usual, don’t be upset!
Denver Cat Company
3929 Tennyson St.
Monday to Thursday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Friday to Sunday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Qari is from Pakistan and moved to the U.S. when she was 21. She later became a lawyer, but that career wasn’t really her cup of tea. Around that time, Qari saw an article about a pop-up cat café in New York City and thought that was right up her alley.
“I saw that and was like this is the best thing anybody’s ever thought of and I need to do one immediately,” Qari laughed. “So, I quit my job and leased this space” in May 2014.
In December of that year, she opened the Denver Cat Company, making it the third cat café to open in the U.S.
“I’ve been doing this now for nine years in December and it’s been an amazing run,” Qari said. “The location has been a real cause for the success…It’s lovely that it’s very embedded in the community. We’ve had kids grow up here that I knew from the age of like eight who are now going to college and are coming back through the summers and wanting to work here in the summer. It’s just a cool local community business, that of the kind that Denver is losing because it’s getting so hard to operate a business in the city.”
Qari said running her business for nine years hasn’t always been, especially with dealing with the economic instability brought on by the pandemic.
The Cat Company makes money from paid visits, which can be an hourly rate of $12 to an annual membership of $100. Paying to get in gets customers complimentary coffee since the café can’t technically sell open food products. But folks can buy bottled drinks. Qari said her $12 fee is on the cheaper end of the business (KitTea, for example, charges $28 an hour).
In August 2020, Qari established a nonprofit rescue organization within the cat café, the Denver Cat Rescue.
Through the nonprofit, Qari said Cat Company partners with county shelters and some out-of-state shelters to assist in rescuing cats, clearing them for adoption and then bringing them into the café to be adopted.
Qari added that the café also accepts cat surrenders. Qari said families surrendering the cats have mentioned feeling less judged and appreciated the less colder environment for the cats than a shelter.
The adoption vetting process and paperwork is done in house. That vetting includes calling references, making sure applicants can have cats per rental leases if necessary and just making sure people are truly able to care for the cats.
Qari said on average, 400 cats get adopted from the café a year.
“We have very good self-selected cat lovers who come here because, you know, people don’t come here unless they’re super into cats,” Qari said. “They get to hang out with the cats and get to know their personalities. It’s a very hands-on kind of way to get to know your future pets. It’s a little better than seeing them in a kennel cage.”
Typically, the café has about 20 cats meandering throughout the space. Look up, look down, look in the corners and in the cubbyholes, there will be a cat waiting.
Qari said the kitties usually get adopted within two weeks of arriving at the café. The intimate environment helps the adopters really get to know their cats. The other part, Qari said, is sometimes the cats’ name.
“We’ll do some rebranding sometimes,” Qari said and laughed. “We got a really kind of boring cat who was 13 years old and just looked sad. He had a sad old man face and I think his name was Alexander. So, we renamed him Cat Boy Slim and he was immediately adopted.”
The café isn’t just for folks who want to adopt, though. Qari said many of their visitors can’t have cats because of financial reasons, housing restrictions or family allergies.
“It’s always the dads that are allergic,” Qari surmised.
During the height of the pandemic, Qari said the café became a great outlet for folks. A serotonin boost during an isolating time. That’s what she’s looking forward to with the future of the café. Getting more cats adopted and simply providing a space for cat lovers and serotonin seekers.
“I would say if you love cats, it’ll be a neat experience,” Qari said. “It’s just a rare experience to have as a cat lover. Even I walk in and I’m just delighted sometimes… It’s a really great service to the cat community. It’s a really great service to our local community just in general. Just to have a space that’s built for the purpose of enjoying, you know, cats and other cat lovers’ company.”
Teddy Cat Café
39 E. Florida Ave.
Wednesday through Saturday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The pandemic is what sort of pushed Thomas into opening Teddy Cat Café.
During the height of COVID, Thomas said she and her mom would volunteer at the Denver Animal Shelter. Thomas began fostering more and more cats, especially the spicy kitties, or feral cats and realized fostering and caring for cats was way more fun than her job as a mortgage broker.
So, she opened Teddy Cat in November
“We prefer the cats who’ve been at the shelter the longest,” Thomas said. “The longer they’re in here, the more socialized they get, the more love they get and it’s a better way to get them adopted… We just try and set them up for success for their adoption.”
Teddy Cat has been pretty successful in the adoption process. Since they opened, 96 cats have been adopted.
Thomas said most cats get adopted within a week or 10 days. Three months is the longest a cat was with the team, but with the cat café model, the cat wasn’t in a cage for three months.
“Owning a cat café is not easy work…It’s a labor of love. Being able to do this, it’s tons and tons of work and we’re exhausted all the time, but 96 homes for cats and families really is what makes it worth it,” Thomas said.
Teddy Cat focuses on fostering the cats, so the adoption process occurs with whatever shelter the cats originated from. For example, Thomas said one of her main shelter partners is PawsCo. If someone wants to adopt Itty Bitty, they’d contact PawsCo and they’d handle the vetting process.
“We’re just babysitting them to help them get adopted,” Thomas said.
And providing patrons with kitty, and cat, playtime. Visiting fees with Teddy are $13 an hour for adults and $11 for children, seniors and students. Teddy Cat also hosts kitten yoga events, along with tarot card readings.
Thomas also funds the operation through the retail portion of the café.
So if you’re looking for a cat-themed product, Teddy has you covered. There’s mugs, prints, hair ties, and neko statues. Thomas said she gets many of the items from Faire, a small-business focused site similarly to Etsy. Thomas also sources from local artists and retailers including Two Little Fruits and Counter Couture.
But don’t think of over-the-top cat-themed products. And don’t think you’ll find cat-pun names either. Thomas is not a cat-pun person.
“There’s a lot of kitschy cat stuff out there but I search for all the cute cat stuff,” Thomas said. “I’m still a crazy cat lady. Mind you, I have four cats and own a cat café but some of the cat stuff, I’m just like we don’t need to add that extra stuff in there.”
But all levels of cat-lovers are welcomed at Teddy’s.
Thomas said in the future, she’d like to expand the store to actually include a café. Currently, the coffee is complimentary but for now she’s taking it one kitty at a time.
And who’s Teddy? Teddy is Thomas’ foster fail. She originally was supposed to foster Teddy for a short time but Thomas said her brother adopted Teddy’s sister and a friend’s mom adopted Teddy’s other sister, so it just felt right to keep Teddy in the mix.
“You know when you meet a cat and you’re like this cat’s supposed to be mine? Yeah, I couldn’t let him go,” Thomas said.