On opening day last month, customers had already lined up outside TOT the Cat Café at College and Spadina before the doors had even been unlocked. They didn’t mind, though: These early birds were already going gaga over the furry felines coming to greet them at the front window.
While the cat café craze has swept Asia and Europe since the first such concept opened in Taiwan in 1998, it’s still a novel phenomenon in North America. In Vancouver, for instance, the first of its kind will open on Monday.
TOT co-owners Scott Tan and Kenneth Chai, originally from Saskatoon, saw an untapped market of cat-lovers in Canada’s largest city.
“Saskatchewan’s population is less than the population of Mississauga,” Mr. Tan said. “Also it’s so cold and very hard for people to go out.”
Here’s how feline interactions go down at TOT: Customers can order coffee and sweets as they would at any café. But beside the cashier, there is a sign-up sheet where they can put their name down on a wait list to enter a separate glass enclosure – or as it’s better known, the cat room.
Mr. Chai said only 12 people, for up to an hour each, are allowed in at a time. The lucky few must remove their shoes, put on slippers and sanitize their hands before entering the room. Food and beverages are allowed, but picking up the cats is prohibited, as Mr. Chai said they are still in the process of integrating the cats into their new environment.
The cats have come to TOT as part of a partnership with the Toronto Humane Society and are available for adoption. They all have received full medical checks and are parasite-free, microchipped, vaccinated and spayed, said Barbara Steinhoff, executive director of the humane society.
“In the cat café they are looking for certain traits. You know, the happy, healthy type of cat is going there,” she said.
For Ms. Steinhoff, the partnership with TOT is an exciting opportunity to replicate some of the success other cat cafés around the world have experienced. “It’s another place to highlight the incredible animals that are available for adoption. It allows us to have people interact with them outside of the shelter and hopefully help us to find more animals homes.”
Mr. Chai said the café is a start-up and not everything went as smoothly as possible – TOT’s opening was originally slated for September.
They were also dealing with one major loss: In October, Mr. Chai’s calico cat, Olen, died from a stroke. On Facebook he wrote: “For those who don't know her, she’s my daughter. … She was way more than a cat, she was a companion.”
On his phone, Mr. Chai has numerous photos of Olen, staring into the camera, or happily rolling around on the floor. He had planned for Olen to be the café’s first cat.
Anthony Lam, one of the first customers at the café, had no strong feelings about the snacks and beverages on offer. He did, however, wish there were less people allowed into the cat room at once so that there was more personal time with the felines.
“I wouldn’t mind owning a cat, but I feel I wouldn’t be able to devote enough time to it,” Mr. Lam said. “It’s a nice place to just check it out and play with a cat for half an hour and then leave. It gives me my cat fix every now and then.”Report Typo/Error
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