San Francisco's first (and only) cat cafe — where you could once hear cats purr while your tea cooled — is clawing and clamoring to stay open amid slow foot traffic and needing to meet its high overhead costs that are required to keep its rescue cats fed, healthy, and properly sheltered.
It's not been easy the past seven or so months for Bay Area small businesses — to put it mildly, and without using any expletives. Earlier in the summer, a report published by Yelp showed that some 5,000 businesses have closed — with over 2,000 of them now permanently shut down — since the global health crisis began. And San Francisco's KitTea Cafe, the only one of its kind in the city, appears to be on one of its last lives.
“Our costs are very high, especially from taking care of cats for their medical needs and food, and everything else, the care that goes into it,” Courtney Hatt, the owner and founder of KitTea, tells SFGATE. “The rent is extremely expensive for Hayes Valley. We got into this lease when it was very competitive to find a commercial space back in 2014, so we had to quickly ask for support from the community.”
A recent GoFundMe campaign organized by Hatt has raised over $53K from nearly 1,000 donors, eclipsing their initial $40K goal; the fundraiser's goal has since been upped to $60K. Hatt had made clear that all the money donated goes toward meeting their $10K monthly rent, paying her staff, keeping the utilities on — and, of course, taking care of the cats, many of which are up for adoption or able to be fostered out.
Due to the City's COVID-19 safety measures, KitTea Cafe now offers two types of "lounge" experiences, allowing patrons to share space with adult cats or kittens under strict guidelines. (Because of the regulations, the cafe is no longer offering such things like waffles and hot teas; guests can choose a bottled tea or water to enjoy once they've left the cafe, however.)
And the once hour-long lounge visits have been shortened to 40 minutes, which allows staff time to properly disinfect the space before the next party.
“Instead of the visiting times being an hour-long like how they used to be, each visit is now forty minutes long and twenty minutes go into sanitizing the space for the next guests," Hatt adds. "We wear our masks. Masks are never taken off.”
Not only is KitTea Cafe having to contend with COVID-19 slowing business, but also kitten season — the breeding season commonly referred to for domesticated cats that lasts primarily from March to October — has led to an uptick of rescue cats populating the cafe. Though, regardless of the financial hardships facing the idiosyncratic business, Hatt decided it was only right to offer some of these strayed cats shelter.
“We decided to do our part and we pulled in 25 kittens in the first round," Hatt waxes on the new kittens the cafe's taken in, later noting to SFGATE that many of the felines under its care have since been given new homes amid growing interest in adopting or fostering animals — a silver lining of the pandemic. "Then we got rid of our tea lounge entirely and we started a kitten room. Now we’re no longer a cat cafe, we’re just like a rescue space now.”
Later this month, the entire operation will be moved to a new location on Valencia Street, right next to Arizmendi Bakery — which, by then, hopefully, some (or all) of the nine adoptable kittens searching for permanent homes will find them. As for the other dozen-plus adult felines? They'll be accepting all the pats and pets they can get... whenever the cafe reopens in the next few weeks.
Image: Unsplash via Erik-Jan Leusink