At most cafes, proprietors’ main concern is keeping up with demand for coffee, pastries and sandwiches.
At the Cattyshack Cat Café, however, the comestibles are holding out just fine. It’s the cat supply that Andrew Townsend (’18, Business Management) and partner Amber Redfern struggle to keep in stock.
Herding cats takes on a whole new meaning at Lee County’s first such café, where it’s possible to enjoy coffee, pastries and sandwiches without encountering one of its furry occupants, who have their own customized room. But, for most drawn to this new hangout at Gulf Coast Town Center in south Fort Myers, the felines are the main attraction.
And that’s how the owners like it. Sure, they are happy to see people come in to sample a Catspresso or Meowchiato, cat paw cookies or perhaps a glass of Cat’s Paw wine (that’s the brand name, not the ingredients, of course).
But the main attractions are the kittens and cats, a new batch of which arrive almost daily from Gulf Coast Humane Society, which has already given them their medical screenings, spayed or neutered them, implanted their microchips and administered their vaccinations. In other words: They are ready to go should you fall in love and want to take one – or two – home with you that day. (Standard adoption rates, which range from $15 to $75 based on the cat’s age, apply and go to Gulf Coast Humane Society.)
That happened 158 times in the first 27 days the café was open. Visitors can see the evidence on the wall near the entrance to the cat room: two wires displayed like necklaces bear the name tags of the adopted cats.
What possessed Townsend and Redfern to launch a concept that had never been tried before in Lee County?
Townsend is a lifelong animal lover and was a fan of “The Price is Right” as a kid. Each night, he’d hear host Bob Barker end the show with the message “Help control the pet population.” After spending some time playing poker for a living, he asked himself, “What good am I doing for the world? I wanted to give something back to the community.”
His love of animals guided the pair to the cat café concept.
“It was a two-year journey,” says Redfern, as she gazes contentedly around the cheerful and immaculate space. “We visited 20 cat cafes in six states” while conducting market research. They found that not all were the cat’s meow. Some didn’t look nice. Some didn’t smell so nice, either.
“We get the cats and kittens in the morning from Gulf Coast Humane Society,” she says. “They must feel as if they are being dropped off at Disney World.”
The couple – who are partners in life as well as business and who share their home with 17- and 18-year old cats, Sophie and Morris – wanted a place that was easy to keep clean and fun to visit. They settled on a golf theme, with a room that has hollowed-out golf bags perfect for cat naps, fake palm trees that the inhabitants love to climb, benches where humans and cats can settle for some serious petting and even a golf cart with sisal on the dash so the cats rub it, making it appear as if they are driving.
The Mulligan Room as it’s called – “Because a mulligan is a second chance in golf and these cats are getting their second chance at a good life,” says Redfern – is separated from the coffee bar with its own HVAC system so those with allergies can sit and sip coffee without having an allergic reaction. All surfaces can be disinfected, ensuring safety for the cats and visiting humans alike.
So, who benefits from a cat café? Just about everyone. High on the list are overcrowded animal shelters, which are teeming with cats and kittens, especially now during “kitten season,” when cats typically have lots of litters. In addition to Humane Society cats, the shelter brings in some from LaBelle and Clewiston, where there are many cats that need homes but fewer people to adopt them. They also take overflow from the Lee and Collier domestic animal services shelters.
“Because Cattyshack is doing so many adoptions, we can take in more cats, help more shelters and save more lives,” says Jennifer Galloway, executive director of Gulf Coast Humane Society. “They are definitely adopting out more than we realized they would. So we can move more cats through.
“And it makes you feel good to see the cats having fun and the people smiling.”
Other beneficiaries include people looking for new pets who have the chance to, uh, caternize with several in a tranquil, fun setting so they can gauge their potential pet’s cattitude. Students, renters and tourists who cannot have pets where they are staying but need a fix of feline fun can reserve an hour in the Mulligan Room for $15 to frolic with the residents. And another big winner is Lee County, which is estimated to have some 250,000 stray and feral cats roaming its 785 square miles of land.
Townsend credits the Runway Program at FGCU’s Frank and Ellen Daveler & Sandra Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship with helping him launch a Kickstarter campaign that raised $20,000 from 230 people to get the café up and running. The program helps students and alumni hone and launch their business ideas.
A maximum of 10 people are permitted in the cat room at a time so they and the kitties can spend quality time together.
On a recent Friday, Lisa Wilson and her daughters Molly, 14, and Kate, 11, spent a blissful hour communing with the cats. They can’t have any at home because a family member has allergies, but they are happy to visit.
“It’s so amazing,” says Molly Wilson, who had gotten in some serious cat petting. “The cats are so happy. I usually have anxiety and here I feel stress-free. I love cats so much.”
Her sister agrees. “It’s such a nice environment,” she says. “All the cats are so well taken care of, and the employees are so nice.”
Lisa Wilson runs Chocolattes Coffee & Roasting in Fort Myers, which is where the cat café procures its coffee.
“This place is great for any age. It’s going to be the next big thing in Gulf Coast Center,” she predicts.
Judging by the demand for reservations and the number of cats being adopted, it appears that it already is.
- Cattyshack Cat Café, 9902 Gulf Coast Main St., Fort Myers; 239-237-2960
- Open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
- Reservations can be made on its website, Cattyshackcafe.com