WASHINGTON — The first thing you’ll see walking into this cafe is a cat stretched out on a chair by the front window.
Vegas, a deceptively grumpy looking calico tabby, lies in the chair a few feet away watching with eyes half closed. Thomas, a gray and white furball stretched out across the front desk, doesn’t spare a glance as customers walk in. Upstairs, some younger cats take turns pestering everyone in sight for attention.
As customers walk in, they’re given a quick run-down of the basics. Cats with purple collars are the “sassy” cats. Snack and drink orders can be placed at the front.
If you’ve ever dreamed of drinking coffee while surrounded by cats, this is your place.
In mid-June, Georgetown saw the opening of Washington’s own “catfe” by University of Maryland graduate Kanchan Singh. The cafe partners with Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation, which gets from the Washington Humane Society the 20 or so rescues that Crumbs & Whiskers fosters at any one time. Around 10 cats are adopted each month.
“If we can offer cats a home, and if they get adopted, even better,” said employee Andrew Crumpler. “We enjoy it because we see them come and go.”
Working with live animals is distracting and unpredictable, Crumper said, and things happen – like cats jumping into the cash register or on laptops.
Dog Tag Bakery supplies the food offered at the cafe. The bakery employs veterans, Crumpler said, so the businesses have similar ideals.
Funded partly through crowdfunding, Crumbs & Whiskers is one of the first cat cafes to open in the United States. Singh’s Crumbs & Whiskers Kickstarter project raised almost $36,000 in 30 days from more than 700 backers. That was more than twice her goal of $15,000.
“We set this place up how things traditionally are in a cafe or retail store,” rather than studying an actual cat cafe, Singh said. This caused a few difficulties in the beginning, especially with too many customers at one time causing stress for people and cats alike.
“Our biggest challenge was figuring out what works because this is so new,” she said. While bringing animals into restaurants is a relatively new trend in America, it’s not in Japan or Taiwan, where the idea originated because of strict pet restrictions in apartments.
The 25-year-old said she “fell in love” with cat cafes after experiencing them firsthand in Thailand.
“The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much a city like D.C. does need something like that,” she said.
The trend in the United States isn’t starting – or stopping – here.
Cat cafes are popping up all over the country; several in California and a few on the East Coast have opened in the past year.
“I honestly think we need a cat cafe in every major city, because it brings in more adoptions and finds these cats a new home” while keeping them out of cages, said employee Jen Guo. She said one of her favorite parts of the job is watching customers find unexpected love in the cafe.
“(It’s great) when I see a customer come in and they don’t expect to adopt a cat, they just really like cats, and they’ll come in and sit down and a cat will come over and sit on their lap,” she said. “It warms my heart to see them make a connection right there.”
Kishta, a solid black ball of fur perched atop a cushion, is Crumpler’s favorite. Kishta maintains an air of disinterest despite a stunningly yellow eye partly open on the room.
“He’s the first cat I socialized here; he was a scaredy-cat when I first started and part of my job was to socialize him and get him to come upstairs,” Crumpler said. “He was my first success story … to get him to hang out with people.”
Crumbs & Whiskers made headlines in late September after hosting cat yoga. A cat completely took over a customer’s yoga mat, Crumpler said, but it was a success.
About a month later, in the spirit of Halloween, the cafe hosted a “Kittens and Costumes party” on Halloween weekend with kittens dressed in costumes, as well as a Hocus Pocus movie night with Binks, a black cat, as guest of honor.
“Definitely watching a cat go through the process of coming into the cafe, leaving their past, and transitioning into this awesome life is the most rewarding part,” Singh said.
Midnight, a cat that used to live at Crumbs & Whiskers, was aloof before he was adopted, Singh said.
His new owner sent a picture of Midnight, “and he was curled up with her son reading a book,” she said. “He’d been given up by his previous owners, and they’d asked to euthanize him. We didn’t think he would be adopted so soon.”