Over the weekend, I heard the exciting news that a very special type of eatery had set up shop in Austin's east side of town.
Blue Cat Cafe opened on Saturday, bringing the longtime dreams of owners Rebecca Gary and Jacques Casimir to purring life and bringing Austin's population of cat lovers a very feline-friendly place to meet over coffee or the vegan food available from the cafe's food truck right outside its front door.
Speaking with Rebecca and Jacques, it's clear they share a vision and passion for the cafe, and the cats that make it their home. Rebecca was inspired by a similar business in California, and tells how Blue Cat Cafe went from a dream to reality in a relatively short time.
"Cat Town was the first cat cafe. This was something that Jacques and I always wanted to do, but after Cat Town opened in Oakland I started working at creating a cat cafe, and then we met shortly afterwards on Facebook. I started a Facebook community and we met through that.
It seems almost like a perfect series of events led to the two meeting. As Jacques explains, "I was actually at a cat cafe in Japan, and thought maybe I should be doing this. So I started looking around, wondering if there was one in Austin, and I found Rebecca, and sent her an email while I was still sitting at that cafe in Japan."
Blue Cat has as many as 20 cafe cats roaming around its large interior, and the place has plenty of specially designed kitty-friendly features to keep them happy and healthy. Still, running a cat cafe presents special challenges that other kinds of businesses don't face.
"Well, most coffee shops don't have their inventory hiding or trying to run out the door, so we have to count cats every morning and every night. A lot of the time they're hiding, so we find ourselves asking "Where is Fancy?" and then you discover she's up in the rafter somewhere," Jacques explains with a smile.
Both Rebecca and Jacques have done an amazing job at creating an environment that's happy and safe for both the cats and the human beings who share space at Blue Cat Cafe. Jacques describes the special features that keep the cafe clean and healthy.
"One challenge is we have 18 to 20 cats living in the cafe full time, and people eat in there, so we have to take cleanliness very, very seriously. Air quality is also really important, and we're constantly monitoring those things. Technologically, I'd say we're probably the most advanced cat cafe in the world, in terms of what we're doing in there. The cats are microchipped, and their feeder only opens when a cat approaches it. It lets them eat and keeps the environment safe. The litter room uses negative air pressure so that air can only flow in from the main cafe and out of the building, so there's a barrier that's impermeable unless the laws of physics change."
Filtration systems in the dining area circulate fresh air and keep the entire area clean and pleasant to spend time in. Blue Cat Cafe was designed from the beginning with the goal of promoting positive living spaces for people and cats to share without conflict.
As Rebecca explains, "The cafe is totally "catified." There's a lady named Kate Benjamin, and if you've ever seen the TV show My Cat From Hell, she's been on that with Jackson Galaxy, and they've worked together. She specializes in creating cat superhighways and developing barriers that work with cats. She helped design this, and gave us a lot of guidance. It was really, really neat to have her here. We want this place to show you can make your house completely livable for both you and your cat. We offer lots of really cool-looking cat beds and other items a person can be proud to have in their home."
One of Blue Cat Cafe's main purposes is to spread the idea that people can design elements of their homes that make having a cat rewarding and also less stressful than some people think. Both Rebecca and Jacques also want to see the cats at their cafe find good homes.
"Our primary mission is to have the cats adopted, and to make the adoptions as successful as possible. We want to make sure that people go home not just with a cat, but also the things they need to make that adoption successful. Toys, a scratching post, all those things that help make things go smoothly so the cat doesn't end up back in a shelter because they were destroying someone's house because that person wasn't given the tools they need," Jacques says.
Rebecca continues, saying, "We had a couple more adoptions today. They're all Humane Society rescues, and people can adopt them. Today we had three. The Humane Society is our partner, so all the adoptions go through them, and it was free today. Today we also had the puppies outside."
"Puppies in front, cats inside," Jacques adds.
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Asked about the food Blue Cat Cafe offers, Rebecca describes part of the menu. "We have barbecue tacos, barbecue sandwiches, nachos, hot dogs...Well, "cat dogs." It's all vegan." Judging from the yummy smells wafting over from Blue Cat Cafe's food truck, I can say I'll definitely be stopping back by to hang out with the cats and to get some nachos sometime soon.
Jacques is originally from Houston, so naturally one has to wonder if H-Town might eventually see its own cat cafe open. I'd like to think so, because Rebecca and Jacques have created a very special kind of social environment, one that's relaxing and fun, but that also allows visitors to experience for themselves how perfectly cats and humans can live together. Until then, anyone traveling to Austin who wants to enjoy good food and fun feline company is encouraged to stop by Blue Cat Cafe. Rebecca Gary and Jacques Casimir have really created something special there.