From ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire to the present day, cats have been a part of our lives—in fact, it's believed that they have been domesticated for over 12,000 years. Throughout history felines have been regarded as symbols of good, evil, luck and power. Today they take center stage online—“I can haz cheezeburger?”—with memes and videos captivating both cat-lovers and kitty haters alike.
Courtney Hatt, like most, picked up on the global kitty craze, but decided to put her love of cats to work in a way that would benefit humans and felines. Instead of experiencing cats through a screen, she decided to create an environment where people could actually interact with them, reaping both the physical and mental benefits the mystical creatures offer.
Enter KitTea, a cafe where tea drinkers and cat-lovers can go to de-stress and bond with a furry companion (or 10). What's more? All the cats in the tea house are shelter animals. The KitTea concept has been successful in Japan and Europe and now Courtney is bringing KitTea to life in the heart of San Francisco and we can’t wait to go.
We recently caught up with Courtney to find out more about this brilliant idea.
I’m extremely excited for the KitTea tea house to open. How did you come up with the idea?
Through massive amounts of grueling research on Buzzfeed.com every morning while riding the train to work. I wish I could say I was joking, but I really did discover the concept on one of the largest link bate and list making sites on the internet! I wondered if the concept had been picked up in the US and after discovering it hadn't, I set out on a mission from the ancient cat gods of Egypt to make it a reality in San Francisco! Plus, I love animals and have been looking for ways to do more for animal welfare full-time, so it was worth the risk of leaving behind my career of sitting in front of computers all day.
Catchy name aside, why cats and why tea? What’s your personal connection to cats?
Why not?! Cats are in essence one of the most mysterious, zen, elegant and goofy animals on our planet and have been proven to be natural healers with their ability to lower blood pressure and improve bone density just through the frequencies of their purr. Tea is such an important ritual that is practiced all over the world and in so many cultures. It promotes health, vitality and is practiced as a social experience. That is what is so exciting about this concept—it will really allow our rescue cats to live in a social, relaxing environment, while also being a really interesting way for people to socialize with others in the community. KitTea will be a place to network, maybe meet the love of your life or simply melt away in the peaceful company of 10 to 12 lovely cats.
As far as you know, is this the first tea house of its kind in the US?
There was a Purina pop-up cafe in NYC that used our concept to facilitate adoptions a few months back. It was wildly successful, but unfortunately only lasted a weekend. I have a hunch that NYC will be the next city to receive a cat cafe.
This is a joint venture between you and co-founder, David Braginsky. How did you team up with each other?
It was serendipitous. I had been on the hunt for a co-founder with little luck or leads. Two months into my dedication to the project, I was beginning to feel super deterred. That's when a mutual friend of mine and David's suggested we meet to discuss KitTea, I thought David would find the concept silly, but he was immediately devoted, passionate and on board. He also coined the name KitTea.
There must be many obstacles in creating a business like this. What's been the most difficult part?
Where do I even begin? Mostly it is about efficient management. There are so many moving pieces and hoops to jump through. To start, permitting as you can imagine, is complicated . . . we have to apply for more permits than your average cafe in San Francisco. We are being coined by the city as a "shelter" and a "cafe" and we must comply and meet all regulations to avoid any contamination. This brings up costs, since our goal is to make the space appear combined and have a nice flow, which proves challenging for our architects and contractor. I have thus far managed to only breakdown into maniacal tears once and that was this week! I am also planning my wedding, which is next month, so I have had a lot on my plate. I am extra sensitive when KitTea has 10 challenges to be solved in a day plus dozens to 100's of emails in our inbox. Again, prioritizing and management is so key to making KitTea successful.
If a patron has a bond with a cat, will you allow adoption?
That is our entire mission! If that person is a good fit and vice versa they can take that cat home with them the very next day.
Cats can be very territorial. How do you plan to deal with this? Particularly the smell . . . marking territory can be quite potent.
Well, we are starting a cat fighting ring after all (awful joke—sorry internet). Our cats will be screened by our partnered rescues and will be acclimated slowly into the space with the rest of the cats. Each new cat will have its own contained haven where they can get used to the smells and energy of the space and the other cats can adjust to the new cat in town, while feeling safe.
Can you give us a sense of the KitTea space and what can we expect to see on the menu?
The setup is such: You enter KitTea in a vestibule with two glass doors, one door is the entrance to our tea and food and the other door leads to our cat oasis. Patrons can enjoy the cats from inside the tea space via an almost all glass wall and wait/watch from the tea bar if our cat space is at full capacity.
We are keeping things cozy and social, so nothing will ever be too big and cold, but it will also never feel too small, or crowded. Our menu is still to be decided, though we do know we will be sourcing all of our food and snacks from local vendors.
What is your opening date and where can we find you?
We are holding off on announcing our space location and will not be fully committing to an opening day until we are further into construction.