Much has been written about the rise of ‘cafe culture’ in recent years, but much less is known about what makes these spaces so appealing. For one thing, purringtons cat cafe offers a cozy space for patrons to escape from their busy lives and spend time with animals. While cats are not necessarily considered best suited for working environments by many employers, co-working dog cafes have become increasingly popular in urban areas that lack other options.,
Note from the editor: Purringtons Cat Lounge is officially open for business! Visit their website for more information.
I initially heard that a cat café had opened in London over a year ago.
It seemed to me to be a fanciful, storybook-like establishment where one might have a cup of tea while petting a cat. I found it charming, but a little unbelievable—could such a place exist?
After doing some more investigation, I discovered that these cafés are genuine, and that they initially gained popularity in Japan, where small apartment living makes it difficult to have dogs. Even though the thought of playing with kittens while sipping coffee appealed to me, I dismissed it as a one-of-a-kind business that I would never visit.
Cat cafés, on the other hand, are gaining popularity in the United States. Several have opened in the United States in the past year, including cafés in New York City, Oakland, California, and, shortly, Portland, Oregon. Kristen and Sergio Castillo, whose cat café, Purringtons, is scheduled to debut in Portland at the end of January, talked with me.
An revelation for entrepreneurs
We’ve all heard the tale before: Kristen Castillo, dissatisfied with her corporate career, yearned for a change. Then, in October of 2014, she received a video of a cat café in Paris through Facebook.
Kristen explains, “I had an insight.” “The following day, I began making phone calls and have been working toward [opening the café] ever since.”
Kristen had been searching for something like a cat café for a long time. She left her job in April 2014 to give her entire attention to the project, and she and her husband and business partner Sergio have been working hard to achieve their objective of establishing Purringtons Cat Lounge.
Few cats have dared to go where few cats have gone before.
The Castillos are in a unique situation, since they are breaking new ground by establishing a cat café in the United States. Because the cat café business concept is so new, there isn’t much in the way of a road map for these company owners to follow.
How do you start a company that isn’t like any other? Kristen addressed the challenges of managing the launch of what is effectively two separate companies in the case of a cat café.
Kristen describes it as “creating two big companies in one.” Purringtons will serve as both a restaurant and a cat sanctuary, with the intention of adopting out the cats to interested customers.
Because the company is so diverse, this poses unique difficulties. Kristen adds, “What we’re doing is unprecedented,” and she’s right: Purringtons will be the first cat café in the United States to have live-in cats on the premises as well as a complete restaurant offering beer, wine, and cuisine prepared on-site. “There are no rules,” Kristen adds, adding that launching Purringtons has been a learning process.
Starting a cat café is a lesson in entrepreneurship.
Purringtons will be the Castillos’ first foray into the business world. “It’s been quite an education,” Kristen adds, noting that starting a company always means encountering circumstances for which you are unprepared.
Finding a suitable location for Purringtons proved to be an unanticipated difficulty, since the cafe’s peculiarity made it difficult to locate both an acceptable layout and a landlord willing to allow cats to reside on the premises. Finally, a building owner who had heard of the Castillos’ idea to establish a cat café approached them personally, and they rebuilt the space from the bottom up with the necessary layout.
Purringtons Cat Lounge’s Facebook page provided this image.
“It was almost preferable to have it created from the ground up,” Kristen says of working with a designer to ensure the space met both their aesthetic and code standards.
This enabled the Castillos to design their own layout, which included double doors and enough space between the kitchen and the lounge to guarantee that no cats got into the food preparation areas.
The Castillos were able to establish what they wanted from the space—and, more importantly, what they didn’t want—by designing Purringtons from the ground up. Kristen wanted to avoid a clinical, bright atmosphere. She explains, “We wanted to make it visually appealing, with excellent lighting, good music, and comfortable chairs, and make it an experience.”
The Castillos are enjoying the process of starting their first company, despite the difficulties. “You have to live recklessly enough to take a risk, but you also have to know how to ask the right questions to assist you along,” Sergio says.
Purringtons Cat Cafe has six lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs:
1. Research is essential if you’re forging new territory.
If the Castillos had wanted to establish any old restaurant or café, they might have discovered a wealth of information online, ranging from restaurant business plans to expert counsel.
The Castillos, on the other hand, didn’t simply toss away the playbook for an animal sanctuary and restaurant; they totally rewrote it. Kristen and Sergio conducted their own research since there was little to go on and few footprints to follow. Kristen said, “We’re just finding things out on our own.” They looked into such cat cafés in other countries, contacted proprietors, and talked with municipal authorities.
You may discover that you have less resources if you are beginning a company with a distinctive perspective. What is the Castillo’s recommendation? Always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always “Do your homework, speak to others… “Ask for guidance and listen to other people’s stories,” Kristen adds.
2. Calls and emails can only go you so far.
While you may be tempted to seek information through email, Kristen believes that a face-to-face encounter is frequently preferable. The Castillos understood they’d have to follow a variety of health regulations by merging an animal sanctuary with a restaurant.
They went to the health department in person rather than sending an email. “When you talk to someone on the phone, all they do is regurgitate code,” Kristen explains. It was much simpler for them to obtain answers to their queries when they talked to someone in person. Kristen explains, “He simply said, here’s what you have to do.”
You’re sure to have particular inquiries as you go through the stages of starting a company. While emails and phone conversations are excellent places to start, meeting with someone in person may save you time and provide you with the comprehensive information you need fast.
3. Make a business strategy, even if you’re not going to reveal it to anybody.
At Palo Alto Software, we often advocate this concept, and our founder Tim Berry even published a book about it. Even if you are the only one who sees the plan, it is necessary to go through the planning process.
The Castillos developed a business plan for Purringtons but “never actually showed the strategy to anyone,” according to them. Kristen, on the other hand, considers the process to be priceless. “It makes you think about things, become organized, and address problems you didn’t even realize you had,” she adds.
Your business plan doesn’t have to be long—in many cases, a one-page business plan can enough. What’s the crucial part? Doing the actual planning.
4. Don’t expect a crowdfunding effort to be a huge success.
So, you’ve got a company concept, you’ve done some research and planning, and you’re ready to start raising money. Why not give it a shot? Crowdfunding campaigns have proven to be a huge success for many companies, so why not give it a shot?
Not so fast, my friend. While crowdsourcing may be an effective means of raising funds, it is not a given nor a promise. While the Castillos’ Indigogo fundraising effort taught them important lessons and helped them get news attention, it was not as successful as they had anticipated. “I think it was excellent for exposure, I think it was nice to get out there,” Kristen says, adding that having a big social media following is sometimes necessary to reach enough people to make crowdfunding a success.
Sergio agrees: “You’ll go farther ahead if you have a stronger social media presence than we had… Obtain as many [followers] as possible on Instagram, Facebook, and any other platform that will enable you to spread the word.”
Should you completely avoid crowdfunding? Of course not, but you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you have a big enough following to rely on to make your crowdfunding efforts pay off, and get as many additional sources of financing as possible.
5. Be the first to hear about a new concept.
“We wouldn’t be a blip if we were simply establishing another cafe,” Kristen says, and she’s right—in a city like Portland, where cafes and restaurants abound, you have to stand apart. A café where you can pet cats and maybe adopt one? That is definitely noteworthy. Cat cafés are sprouting up all across the country, and Purringtons have gotten a lot of attention as a result of their increasing popularity. “These cafés are receiving a lot of attention,” Sergio adds, adding that this has helped Purringtons get exposure they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Is there a unique perspective to your company that may become the next fad, or are you interested in starting a trendy business? The sooner you do so, the better—a fresh, well-received concept will attract much more attention than anything that has been done before. “You can’t beat the free press,” Kristen adds.
6. Do something that is appropriate for your neighborhood.
Kristen explains, “This location is full with animal lovers…they adore everything new and strange.” It’s true; Portland is a city that values its cafés, animals, and a good dose of eccentricity. It seems to be a great match for the neighborhood; Kristen exclaims, “I can’t believe there isn’t one here already!”
Is your company one that will blend in with your neighborhood? Is there a certain specialty that you know everyone will adore? This may make the difference between a company that survives and one that thrives.
Purringtons has also allowed the Castillos to give back to their community and accomplish something that may offer joy to many people. Sergio adds, “It’s wonderful to have the chance to be a part of it.” “It feels wonderful to contribute to the larger good.”
On January 24th, 2015, Purringtons Cat Lounge will open its doors to the public. They’re active on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Are you anticipating the launch of a cat café in your neighborhood? What are your thoughts on this innovative new business model? Tell us in the comments section below or on Twitter!
This post is part of our Cafe Business Startup Guide, which is a collection of articles to assist you in planning, starting, and growing your cafe.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of cat cafes?
A: Cat cafes are a novel concept that offers people the opportunity to interact with cats in an effort as well as to provide support and care for abandoned animals.
Are cat cafes illegal?
A: I am not sure what an illegal cat cafe is, but it seems like something that would be important for me to know.
How do I start a successful cat cafe?
A: There are a number of ways to set up a successful cat cafe. If you have never been in charge of running one, it can be daunting and overwhelming at first. Not only do you need the capital for start-up costs such as furnishings, rent or utilities, but you also must know what breed is best suited to your location and how many cats will fit comfortably into that space. Once all these things are determined then marketing becomes the most important part because without customers there cannot be owners!