Your doors have been open for a little over a year now, have you had a chance to reflect? We’ve always admired entrepreneurs and small business owners; and as we head into our second year, our respect for them has grown dramatically. Running a business, especially with a storefront; comes with challenges, but we’ve realized plenty of successes too. We’re grateful that Pittsburghers are so welcoming and supportive of our mission, and continue to spread the word about Colony Cafe.
I will admit I was skeptical about the cafe and cat thing at first, but after a little research I understood it was a “thing.” Did you experience a lot of the same sentiment as you opened up? We still encounter people who have never heard of cat cafes, and we’re happy to introduce them to our take on it. It helps that our first-floor bistro and bar are completely separate from the Cat Loft experience, so you’re not required to be a cat lover to visit. In fact, we have a few regulars who have animal allergies, so they enjoy their daily coffee and after-work drinks downstairs.
Opening up, and being Pittsburgh’s first cat cafe, was it a nightmare working with the city to get all your inspections and licenses? We were expecting to contend with red tape beyond the typical small business launch because we’re a new concept for the city, but were pleased to find some very open-minded people in the city and county offices. We documented our business operations and processes really well, and they were supportive and helpful once they realized we’d do whatever we needed to be compliant and pass inspections.
I have to admit upon my first visit I was surprised how relaxing it was to be around the cats, enjoying a beverage, why do you think that happens? There’s actually research that supports the theory that petting cats prompts the body to produce stress-relieving hormones. But we’re not scientists. Sipping a Malbec in a comfy chair with a soft and purring cat next to you just feels good (and helps temporarily take your mind off anything bothering you).
I’m not sure if everyone realizes the cats are available for adoption, what’s involved and how many to date have been adopted. The Cat Loft serves as a high-volume foster home for the cats, who are vaccinated, spayed or neutered and microchipped. All our cats come from Animal Friends, a full-service animal welfare organization in the North Hills. If a guest is interested in adopting, we’ll guide them through the application process, and if they are approved, they can pick up their cat right from the cafe. To date, we’ve found homes for 104 shelter cats.
The cafe portion is completely separate from the “cat area,” what changes have you made with your menus? People love our melts – gourmet grilled cheeses – so we’ve added new options and house-made soup, which makes a for great lunch. In addition to our wine and cocktail menu, we now offer beer and cider, all from Pennsylvania brewers (plus Stella Artois, for those who insist on an import). We still have an easy-to-order-from wine list, which changes seasonally, or whenever we discover something we want to share. We also sell bottles to-go, so it’s convenient to grab some vino on your way home from work, or if you need to BYOB.
What’s next? One of our t-shirts says “everything is better with cats” which is tongue-in-cheek, but also true! So you’ll see us doing more local collaborations, like the ones we had in our first year. Guests loved our pop-up shops with Stitchburgh Boutique (https://www.facebook.com/stitchburghboutique/) and Americat Company (https://www.facebook.com/americatcompany/ ). And our first-ever beer tasting with the team from Dancing Gnome (http://www.dancinggnomebeer.com/) in Sharpsburg was a huge hit, so you’ll see us offering more fun things to do. With cats.