ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Josh Eddy wasn’t always a cat person — he grew up around dogs — but he’s become a kitty convert since getting together with Colin Williams and, by extension, his cat, Henry.
That’s probably a good thing considering that the couple are launching Mad Catter Cafe next month, Newfoundland’s first cat café, on Duckworth Street in downtown St. John’s.
“We first started visiting a lot of cat cafes while we were travelling last year and we always talked about how we thought one could do well here,” says Williams, who was working in Prague last year as a customer support manager for a travel company.
“We started researching it and the more we researched it the more we liked it.”
Looking into the business model — which started in Taiwan in the 1990s and quickly spread to Europe and then to North America — they found that similar operations in on this side of the Atlantic Ocean involved a partnership with a local animal rescue agency where the café would serve as a satellite adoption facility.
“That really made us cling on to the idea,” says Williams, 26. “There's a lot of cats in St. John's that need homes, so we liked being able to help out with that.”
Adds 28-year-old Eddy, “They're really popular. Every one that we've looked at has exceeded expectations in different markets in the U.S. and in Canada.”
The 124 Duckworth home of the Mad Catter was previously occupied, ironically enough, by the Bird House.
It’s a small space, and most of the square footage will be dedicated to the cat lounge.
“You'll walk into a hallway where there's an entrance to the cat lounge, which takes up the majority of the floor plan, and then an entrance into the small takeout coffee bar where you can grab a cup of coffee or snack,” Williams explains. “There'll be windows where you can see into the lounge if you're just running in for a coffee, or people can pay admission to get in to the lounge.”
Admission for a 45-minute stint will run customers $6, and Eddy and Williams suggest that anyone planning on making a trip down should make a reservation beforehand.
Final capacity is still being determined, but they anticipate it will be able to accommodate anywhere from 10 to 14 people at a time.
“We want it to be a good experience for the cats and for the people,” says Eddy. “You don't want to go into a room full of people — you're there to see the cats.”
Cats inside the lounge will be free-roaming.
Williams says the goal is to offer them a comfortable home-like environment while they wait to be adopted.
Giving the cats a comfortable and static environment, Williams says, eliminates any stress they might experience going back and forth between locations, and will give potential adopters a better opportunity to interact with and get to know the cats.
The goal is to keep cats on site until they find a home.
“It's important to reduce the amount of stress that's on the animal,” says Williams. “We've got a lot of aspects of the business and of the design of the space that have been thought of specifically to reduce the stress.”
Since announcing the project through social media, one of the most common questions from prospective customers is whether they can bring their own cats to the café.
“They cannot,” says Williams. “As much as we would love to meet everybody's cats, it's for the safety of their cats and our cats. But we'll be happy to look at pictures of them if they want to show us, and they can come in and hang out with ours.”
They’re also planning regular events such as cat yoga, trivia nights and workshops on everything from litter training to basic animal first aid. They’re also working on a plan to make the café available to rent for private events.
The Mad Catter proponents say they’re not at liberty to disclose which local organization they’ve teamed up with to service the cat supply, as the formal agreement is still being hammered out.
On the café side of things, Mad Catter will offer a selection of coffee, tea and hot chocolates and a variety of pastries and cookies. Again, Williams and Eddy are finalizing an agreement with suppliers.
“You won't be able to come in for a sandwich, says Williams. “We do hope to maybe expand on that and maybe introduce some of that stuff in the future, but for the beginning it's going to be pretty limited in terms of the food.”
Both Eddy and Williams bring a degree of business acumen to the table. Eddy, an international business graduate from Memorial University, ran Outport, an online magazine geared toward the LGBTQ+ community before heading to Prague last year. Williams, meanwhile, is currently completing a business degree at MUN and has worked in various management positions in the customer service environment.
Funding for the venture comes by way of Futurepreneur Canada, which also comes with a mentor they can call on over the first couple of years in business.
“If you have anything you're not familiar with or need to work through, we have someone available to us through that program,” says Williams.
That likely came in handy when navigating the red tape and bureaucracy that comes with establishing a new business, particularly in St. John’s. The right information, they say, was often hard to find.
“We've done quite a bit of homework and read as much as we could, but I do think there's a little bit of issue with information not being super readily available,” Williams says.
“However, I will say all the individuals we've dealt with at the city have been incredibly helpful. There's always people available to call and speak to, which is the benefit.”