It’s going to a be Lady Dinah’s themed week here on Cool For Cats UK: today we have an update on the cat cafe’s progress towards opening, and what to expect when it does open; tomorrow there’s a thorough examination of the cat welfare issues involved with opening a cat cafe; and on Thursday there’ll be some Lady Dinah’s product reviews and a giveaway!
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the tale (or should that be tail?) of Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, the UK’s first cat cafe, here’s a brief recap of the story so far:
Back in January of this year, Lauren Pears launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to gain the financial backing she needed to open a cat cafe in East London. Lauren plans to provide London cat lovers with the opportunity to spend time relaxing with cats and a coffee, while at the same time ‘staffing’ the cafe with rescue cats who need a home, and raising awareness of cat rescue and welfare issues. (You can find out more about the cat cafe concept and its origins in my previous Lady Dinah’s post here; and also why some animal welfare charities object to a cat cafe opening in the UK here.) In addition to raising the necessary cash, Lauren’s crowdfunding campaign also whipped up a media storm, and the idea of a cat cafe opening here in the UK has proved very popular with a lot of people!
Lauren Pears (photo by Jemima Yong).
There are various pricing options for a visit to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, ranging from £5.oo for a ‘Pop in for a Pat’ to £80.00 for ‘High Tea for Two’. You can also purchase different types of memberships and sponsor or part-sponsor cats too. Details can be found at the Lady Dinah’s online store.
Originally, Lauren was hoping to be able to open the cafe in May, but the difficulties of finding a suitable property, combined with the mountains of red tape involved in drawing up leases and applying for licences, has seen the opening date put back by a few months – Lauren now hopes to launch the cafe in late summer.
Lauren Pears is currently up to the eyeballs in property leases and licence applications, so I’d like to say a big thank you to her for finding the time to answer my long list of questions regarding Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium!
The good news is that Lauren has now found the ideal property in East London, and is on the point of signing a lease. Understandably, she’s keeping the exact location a secret until all the paperwork’s been dealt with, but says the premises is large enough to meet her requirements (space is needed for two cafe areas – a ‘normal’ cafe and the cat cafe – and also for a customer-free zone which the cats can access at any time). The property also has two separate outdoor areas, which can be enclosed to keep the cats safe, and will be kept as cat-only spaces with no public access. Lauren says that she’s ‘extremely pleased with this feature, as it will allow our cat colony two outdoor territories, and this is a big bonus for the cats.’
The Calico Cat Cafe in Japan (image via tripadvisor.co.uk).
I asked Lauren if she was surprised by the enthusiastic response to the idea of a London cat cafe, and also how she feels about the amount of attention Lady Dinah’s has received before it’s even opened:
‘I knew it would be enthusiastically received, but the scale of our audience is really quite surprising. I expected a smaller, pre-launch following of loyal and excited cat lovers, but we’ve got an online following that rivals some very big and very popular venues in London. I think we’re starting incredibly strong, and I’m very excited about that’
However, this mass-enthusiasm is also cause for concern. Lauren says, ‘One of the big fears I have is that we will be too popular and it will be difficult for people to get in: our capacity is strictly limited for the emotional health of our cats, and we don’t have the option to let everyone in during peak times.’
Lauren doesn’t ‘want anybody to show up at our storefront and walk away disappointed, (but) finding a solution for that is a real challenge.’ One solution would be to allow people to book timed slots of two hours, but this has been met with a ‘mixed public response’. If people end up having to queue to get into the cafe, Lauren’s looking at ways to make the experience more enjoyable ‘including manicures while you wait in line, and all sorts of things!’
Lauren also has plans to open a second cat cafe in London ‘as soon as we are sure it’s a sound business decision to do so. Hopefully this will alleviate pressure on our East London location to meet all the relaxing-with-cats needs of the huge metropolis that is London.’
So, once you’ve negotiated any possible queues and maybe had your nails done in the process, what can you expect to find inside the cat cafe? (Apart from cats, of course – doh!) Well, the decor theme is sumptuous Victoriana, so expect lots of comfy vintage furniture for humans, and a supply of books and board games too. And the resident cats are in for a treat: their furniture is being provided by luxury cat furniture designers, KoogaTree – aka Helena and Simon Hills. Lauren’s keen to provide her cats with plenty of personal space out of the reach of customers, so, in addition to customer-free zones within the property, the cafe itself will be decked out with plenty of KoogaTree Vantage Platforms, situated at look-don’t-touch height. Helena Hills also tells me that there will be ‘the most phenomenal KoogaTree feature tree you could ever imagine! It will be built into the structure of the cafe.’ Now that sounds exciting! (Well to a cat furniture nerd like me it does, anyway.)
Kooga the beautiful bengal modelling a KoogaTree Vantage Platform.
Food-wise the cafe will be sticking to ‘small, simple and tasty’ fare – the most substantial offering will be High Teas (with vegan and gluten-free options available) and toasted sandwiches. All food served will be made locally to the cafe, to keep food miles down. And, of course, the cafe will also be offering a range of teas and coffees. Lauren has had a lot of help with compiling the Lady Dinah menu from her friend Natalia, who has had ‘the enviable job of eating all the vegan and gluten-free cakes we can get our hands on, and short listing the best.’ Blimey – it’s a tough life for some people!
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Lauren has been inundated with job applications from people who are keen to work with the cats in the cafe. These are applications for job vacancies which have yet to be created. If you’re interested in working at Lady Dinah’s once it opens, don’t send Lauren your CV; instead, check out the jobs post on the Lady Dinah’s blog, and follow the instructions regarding signing up for the e-newsletter. I can fully understand why working in a cat cafe would appeal to cat lovers – being surrounded by and responsible for the care of a large group of cats sounds great. But, looking at it realistically, there will only ever be a very limited number of vacancies at Lady Dinah’s. So if you want to work with cats, why not volunteer at your local cat rescue charity instead? (London has several to choose from.) That way you get to spend time with cats who really need your help.
And now we’re on the subject of rescue cats and their welfare: tomorrow I’ll be giving Lauren a right old grilling (in the politest possible way!) about how she plans to ensure the cats in her cafe remain happy and healthy.