I had no idea Cat Cafes were a thing, till a few years ago, when I met a cat lover in school in Germany and she talked about them from her Seoul experiences. Cat Cafes originated in Asia, specifically in Taiwan in the late 90s. While in Europe- I mean Germany- you can bring well-behaved pets to a cafe, it’s a no-go largely in the US. Although, it’s a very pet-friendly country. We’ve often found pet-hotels all over the autobahns and interstate highways. A cat cafe takes the next step though, and invites you to pet cats in a perfectly suited cat-friendly environment. You can also have coffee and snacks on the side. The very first Ann Arbor Cat Cafe is being set up (currently) by a very young and enterprising Miranda Bono who I met a few months ago. It’s called the Cat’s Meow cat cafe.
I did want to write about it earlier, but struggles of living in a new place and moving have meant a post much later, but I am glad it’s here now! Miranda (a couple of months ago) met me in another very locally appreciated coffee shop- Sweetwaters at the intersection of Ashley and Miller in Ann Arbor. Not that you’re going to Google it at this exact moment, but the detailing of the address was key, because apart from where I live, it’s the only other intersection that I readily remember :-).
Since I’m still a permit holder and yet to graduate to a real license, I was going to take my bus ride. Something went awry and I emailed Miranda that I was going to be a few minutes late. She responded with a nice note and an identification marker (we were meeting for the very first time).
“My laptop is white with a light bulb on it”
I remember feeling this was a sign. I wished I had some light bulbs about me too :-). Soon after ordering a Cappuccino in a mug well after lunch time (I wasn’t going to pass up as an Italian anyway), I was all set to find the laptop with a bulb. I spotted her right away. The thing about meeting people for the first time and talking about business is strange at times. You don’t necessarily know where they come from. Nor do you know which questions are ok. Talking to a Startup owner is a little more difficult, because they’re often still figuring things out. So, when do you start, I asked:
“In 2016. I’m trying to secure funding for it currently and also looking for an exact place. I worked with students in UFM and that really helped me because they worked on projects to help me on some key research. Like real-estate and other go-to market stuff”
At this point, it was clear that Miranda was fully into working things out and my conversation was perhaps also taking her away from work. Just the sheer amount of work each day to keep up pace with a Startup work environment as a founder was not lost on me. I felt a sudden urge for empathy run over my interviewing needs. Catching myself just in time, I asked, why she’d chosen cats and not something more regular. She’s a recent UFM (Flint) pass-out having graduated in 2014.
“I work on social media in MLive (across the street). And I had experience in marketing and administrative things. I love cats and it took me over six months to realize that I could bring these experience together and I decided to get onto it”
Why Ann Arbor – was my next question. Naturally in my head I half expected to hear that Ann Arbor could beat Portlandia (which according to real sources is exaggerated but true). Miranda lives in Flint and is a daily Ann Arbor commuter. She talked about knowing the town and thinking that it felt like the right fit in terms of the community and clientele. I agreed and nodded.
The cafe itself will host local art, provide a space for local musicians, allow for a cup of local Michigan coffee (and tea) in addition to local bakery delicacies through community partners. It has also partnered with an animal shelter so that people can adopt cats they meet and fall in love with. Currently, the site already allows for buying Cat Meow merchandize and also accepts donations to speed up the process of building a community behind the whole venture, a cats meow brand and getting the funding out soon. At this point two real things hit me,
- What was I doing in my first year right out of university – I miss having mentors or even the right sort of direction at that time
- Community is such a thing in Ann Arbor (and I can see why)- I missed this a lot in Germany. I lost out on that because of my poor language skills. But starting something locally is infinitely better with community partners and support. Especially if you’re a small business. To that end, Miranda’s sorted it out just right.
What an inspirational little business run by a very smart girl. We need more in this tribe!
Last heard, a second cat cafe has already been announced. Michigan is getting very feline soon. You know what to do in Ann Arbor, when you’re here next (apart from meeting me of course) :-).