Business

Cat cafés in Canada offer lattes and furry felines

Need a kitty fix? Cat cafés are coming to Toronto and Vancouver and four are already purring along in Quebec. But only the Quebec cats can roam freely in the dining room.

Need a kitty fix? Quebec already has 4 cat cafés, Toronto and Vancouver will soon join in

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      Kenneth Chai and Scott Tan love cats so much, they're risking everything to open a cat café.

      The friends and business partners quit their jobs in Saskatoon and moved to Toronto, investing all their own money to realize their vision: a place offering both lattes and friendly felines.

      "It is our dream to have a cat café, so we gave up everything to pursue our dream," says Tan. The former chef and baker will cook up treats like espresso-infused buns and giant cream puffs at the downtown location called TOT the Cat Café, set to open in late September.

      But the café's main attraction will be up to 10 cats from a local shelter, which will live on site and be available for furry affection.

      "Who wouldn't have fun with cats, and because there's a large population in Toronto, I'm sure there's a lot of cat lovers out there," says Chai, a former chemist.

      Cat cafés international

      While the concept may sound crazy to some, cat cafés are big in Asia, growing in popularity in Europe and the U.S., and are now purring their way across Canada.

      They appear to have appeal in large cities, where cat enthusiasts may live in small or temporary spaces. "We're kind of an apartment city and a lot of places have landlords that don't allow you to have pets," says Toronto cat lover Jennifer Morozowich.

      The entrepreneur is shopping for a downtown location to set up her own kitty café. "I'm ready to go. I have everything right down to the furniture in my basement," she says.

      On the West Coast, Catfé is now under construction and set to open in Vancouver in October. There are also plans to establish one in Edmonton
      A customer plays with a kitty at the Café des chats in Paris. (Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty)

      But the cat's meow is Quebec, which has more relaxed rules and already boasts at least four cat cafés. In the province, cats can roam the dining area, free to snuggle with patrons at the table while they enjoy their meals.

      Cat separation

      But in provinces like B.C., Alberta, and Ontario, the felines must be kept in a separate space. "They're very strict," says Chai about the Ontario regulations.

      Due to fears of contamination, animals cannot hang out in the same room where food is prepared, served or sold. Customers, however, can roam freely between the dining room and the designated cat room — even with their take-out coffee.

      To try to lessen the feeling of separation, Chai and Tan are constructing a glass partition. In this way, the customers in the dining area "get the opportunity to see the action inside the glass room," says Tan.

      The business partners hope Ontario will eventually relax its rules. So does Morozowich. "Quebec has always had a more joie de vivre attitude," she says.

      Morozowich argues cats in the dining area are not a health risk, because they must undergo testing to ensure they're parasite free. "The cats at a cat café will be healthier than the patrons," she claims.
      At Café Chat L’Heureux in Montreal, customers can enjoy cat love in the dining room. (CBC)

      Free-roaming Montreal cats

      Clément Marty opened Café Chat l'Heureux in Montreal last year. He runs a restaurant offering vegetarian food and 11 cats from different shelters, which run freely in the dining room. "You can have a cat sleep on your knee," while you eat, he says.

      Marty sees nothing wrong with cats in the dining area. He points out that Quebec does ban the animals from the kitchen where food is prepared and says he runs a spick and span establishment. "We spend lot of time to clean the space, two times each day to be sure that there is no cat hair and no odor."

      "In Quebec, we are lucky," concludes Marty about the more lax rules. He says business is bustling, with customers who come for both the food and the felines, which are individually featured on his website. For example, the tabby Milady is described as playful, adventurous and affectionate.

      Caroline Renaud is a regular at Café Chat l'Heureux. She enjoys the free-roaming kitties, which she says are well behaved. "They come around the chair, they even, some, come on the table. But not begging for food." She also never feeds the cats — a strict policy at the café.

      Customer regular, Caroline Renaud hangs out with her friends at Café Chat l'Heureux in Montreal. (Caroline Renaud)

      Happy times at the cat café

      Renaud's 17-year old cat, Douchka, passed away a couple years ago. Because she was doing major renovations in her home, she put off getting another. So she decided to visit the café to get her feline fix, she says. "I guess I was in need."

      Renaud says she keeps coming back because it's a joyful experience. "Clement sometimes does tricks with the cats, especially Milady. And when the cat gives him the paw, you hear everybody say, 'Aww,' in a chorus."

      "People are happy. They look at the cats, they eat, they're happy."

      Chai and Tan are confident their cat café will also bring joy to Toronto. They both believe that cats have healing qualities. "It helps people to de-stress, maybe after work they're so stressed out, they can come to the café and play with cats and they'll feel better," says Tan.

      Although they're not thrilled about having to separate the cats from the dining area, Tan and Chai feel the dividing wall may have one big benefit. People who aren't that into kitties can still come to the café without having them underfoot.

      But the business partners hope those wary customers will have a change of heart after observing the affectionate felines through the glass. "We're trying to instil [cat] love," says Tan.
      Clément Marty does a "high-five" with cat, Milady at Café Chat l'Heureux in Montreal. (Café Chat l'Heureux)

      About the Author

      Sophia Harris

      Business reporter

      Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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