Cats and a cafe? Personally, Meow Parlour sounds like a dream come true, but maybe not something that could actually happen in real life, especially in New York. But this not drill, New Yorkers can now enjoy the company of an adorable furry feline friend whilst sipping on a sweet mocha latte, and you might even be able to go home with one of those said delights and live happily ever after. (HINT: we mean a cat!) We connected with catrepreneurs Christina Ha and Emilie Legrand, founders of Meow Parlour, on what it’s like to launch a cat cafe and why “dog people” will find it a purrfect place to visit, too.
SALTED SPOTLIGHT: Christina Ha and Emilie Legrand
What was your inspiration behind launching a cat cafe in NYC?
We wanted to go to a cat café as consumers, but there isn’t one here so we decided to do it ourselves! It turns out that we weren’t the only ones who want to visit a cat café, so we’re very lucky with the reception so far.
Before this, what previous jobs led you to being catrepreneurs?
Christina: Well, I’ve worked in retail, PR, and of course, food. My husband, Simon, and I started Macaron Parlour four and a half years ago. So being a business owner already made it easier to make this jump.
Emilie: Before coming to the US I had worked as a radio production assistant and a high school teacher. I started working in food when I arrived here. The opportunity to combine my love for cats and food is a dream come true!
What’s been your biggest obstacle or most intimidating hurdle in launching Meow Parlour so far?
Finding two spaces that were close to each other and fit all of our other requirements. Finding a location for the two Macaron Parlour locations were a breeze in comparison, but having to have simultaneous conversations with two landlords while discussing a foreign concept was a real challenge. It’s easy to convince a landlord to lease a space to you when you have a running business, but much more difficult when you are about to be a “first” with an untested (in NY) concept.
We understand, in an effort to appease the Department of Health, the actual cafe with food will be held in a space separate from where the cats are hanging out, but snacks can be delivered over to Meow Parlour. What sorts of treats can we look forward to at the Meow Parlour Patisserie?
We’ll have a lot of the staple items that people can enjoy at the downtown Macaron Parlour location. We also expect to catify some of those items (cat macarons!) and add in a few additional items. We’re still testing those out so nothing is 100% finalized yet, but we’re getting close. We will be adding one or two savory items as well. We’ll have the menu ready closer to the opening.
We happen to know cats often enjoy sweets, too. Will there be a strict “don’t feed the kitties” rule? (We’re hoping there are no catnip-flavored macarons.) Are there any other special rules we should know about?
Absolutely. People are not allowed to feed the cats at all. Aside from not allowing people to feed the cats human food, we will not be selling treats or any other cat food. We don’t want to motivate the cats to only interact with people who have food and we really can’t control their diets if we let other people feed them. Cats can have sensitive stomachs and some cats need to be on a special diet for health reasons. Taking food out of the equation for the interactions at the café help us take better care of our cats.
We also ask patrons to remove their shoes before entering the cat space. Disposable slippers will be available.
In our dreamland there are dozens of kitties frolicking around being adorable and doing cat things. What’s the actual human to cat ratio?
Well, we hope to have about a dozen cats. We do have enough seating to accommodate more than two dozen people, but our ideal situation limits the number of people to about 20. We have to test this theory out again once the cats are in place. Cats are a priority for us and if the cats are unhappy, the overall experience is unhappy. During our soft opening, we’ll be checking to see what is the most comfortable ratio.
Do you have a plan in place for cats who might not get along so well either with each other or certain people?
The space is designed with hiding spots for cats to be able to have some privacy. Some spots are designed to only fit one cat. Any cats that aren’t doing well in our space will be isolated until we can rehome it, whether in a foster home, a forever home, or at KittyKind’s adoption center at Petco in Union Square. We want it to be a happy situation for all.
You’ve teamed up with local rescue group KittyKind to facilitate the adoptions. Was it difficult to choose your adoption partner? Why did you go with them?
Christina: I have 2 KittyKind cats and I have fostered 6 for them within the past year. They do a great job with following up after each cat and fostering relationships with the adopters. We didn’t even consider any other group.
If we want to come visit the cats, how does that work?
There are two ways inside. 1) Make a reservation online and it’s guaranteed. 2) Try to come as a walk-in and hope for the best. For the first few weeks, we absolutely recommend making a reservation.
Logistically speaking, what will be the toughest part about running Meow Parlour and how have you planned to tackle that?
Cats don’t have bosses so working with them and the rotating in and out of new cats will always have its challenges. We just have to work through doing slow introductions and keeping an eye on their mental health. It’s part of what we signed up for when we decided to open a cat café with adoptable cats.
Do you own any cats/pets yourselves?
Christina: I live with my husband and sister. My husband and I have 2 cats and my sister has 2 cats so we have four altogether.
Emilie: I have two cats.
What would you say to all the “dog people” out there who maybe aren’t so sure about visiting a cat cafe?
Christina: It’s very low commitment to visit a cat café so don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
Emilie: It may not look like it but Christina was (and still is!) a dog person before she met her first cat!
Meow Parlour is open for business and is located at 46 Hester Street. Cat visits can be scheduled at MeowParlour.com.