A man plays with cats at Nekorobi cat cafe in Tokyo, Japan. Cat cafes have spread to Vienna, London and now, Paris.
Parisian cafés were once known for the great writers and philosophers who’ve sat out on picturesque terraces lingering over espressos, crafting theory and literature. Now, thanks to a young entrepreneur, the Parisian café may become better known for something entirely different: cats.
Feline-loving Frenchwoman Margaux Gandelon is creating a refuge for stressed and busy urbanites with Le Café des Chats, a cat café. A concept popularized in Japan, cat cafés or “neko cafés” as they’re known there, allow customers to sip on tea or coffee while petting cats, and the idea has recently spread to Western metropolises like London, Vienna and now, Paris.
“While researching, I realized that there was a real demand for a tearoom where cats are kings,” she told TODAY.com.
In big cities where apartments are tiny and animal laws are complicated, it can be nearly impossible to own a pet, and many frazzled city dwellers desire the de-stressing effects of what some call “purr therapy.”
“[Most] French people like cats but they don’t all have the possibility to have them,” said Gandelon. “This café targets those French people …”
A man and his son play with a cat at the Cafe Neko, in the city center of Vienna, Austria on May 7, 2012.
Whether or not there will even be enough interest from Parisians to frequent a “fad” café, as some Parisians have called it, is still up in the air. But Gandelon has raised over €40,000 ($52,000) in public donations in just four months through Indiegogo, a crowd-funded platform for business and artistic projects similar to Kickstarter, showing a certain interest or at least curious intrigue in a cat café. Benefits like the €150 VIP donation, which gives donors access to four pre-opening café meet-ups to “help our cats be totally at ease with people,” can’t hurt either.
In addition to being a place to de-stress, Gandelon sees Le Café des Chats as a haven for study sessions, a respite from work, as a way to expose children to “the unique relationship between man and cat” and as an alternative to a “noisy” night out.
“To relax, be lulled by purring cats, all while drinking a tea is a philosophy that immediately appealed to me,” said the 26-year-old.
Dr. Gregory Hammer, the former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and a veterinary practitioner in Delaware, thinks Gandelon may be on to something.
“The human animal bond has been well documented, and I do believe the ability to pet and interact with purring cats is a stress reducer,” he said.
Ideal as it may sound, many animal rights activists will be abstaining from the homemade tarts and cute kitties offered up by the café when it opens in Paris’ trendy Marais neighborhood in September.
“What really makes me uncomfortable about this initiative is that the animal would be reduced to being a teddy bear,” Christophe Marie, a veterinarian from the Bardot Foundation in Paris, told the Agence France Presse. “Cats don’t have a particularly strong desire to be petted by the customers of a café.”
Gandelon is quick to come to the café’s defense.
“Customers don’t go to the cats. The cats decide their own whereabouts. They alone will choose to settle down in the lap of a lucky person,” she said. “In addition, we’re already working with a veterinarian who will follow the cats regularly to check their physical and mental health.”
She added, “We will apply their recommendations to the letter!”
And while questions of hygiene have naturally come up, she explained that the resident cats will be kept out of the kitchen and their litter boxes will be in a separate room.
"An entirely separate litter room, accessible by flap, will be available to the cats and cleaned every hour," she said. She claimed that the only thing patrons will smell is the aroma of fresh baked tarts and homemade pastries.
She has proposed perhaps strenuous hours of operation – 24-hour a day, seven days a week.
“Otherwise,” she said. “The cats will be disturbed.”
First published July 10 2013, 8:05 AM