LONDON – Inspired by similar establishments in Japan but with an added English flair, London’s first cat cafe is doing a roaring trade providing traditional afternoon tea in feline company.
Since opening last March, the cafe has been fully booked almost every day, and similar independent businesses plan to open across Britain.
Lauren Pears, founder and director of Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, was inspired by a visit to a cat cafe in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood.
Having grown up with pets, Pears said she missed them once she moved to London.
“I figured a lot of people in London would feel the same way,” she said.
“Cat cafes are very successful in densely populated cities in Southeast Asia, so I thought it could work in London as well,” she explained.
Conscious of cultural differences, Pears looked for how best to root the concept in Britain, and decided to give the cafe an English interpretation.
“Even though a cat cafe isn’t traditionally British, I thought it would be even better to combine the international cat cafe and the really nice English tea experience,” she said.
With a wide selection of traditional cakes and teas, there is also a carer for the cafe’s 10 cats on hand at all times to ensure the animals are cared for properly.
Although initially targeting international tourists, the cafe seems to be a hit amid Britain’s recent trend for vintage decor and quirky cafes.
In the cafe, friends, couples and families chat over tea and cake while playing with the cats.
“It’s our cat-loving daughter’s 18th birthday, so this is her birthday treat. We don’t often have cream tea either, so that’s a bit of a treat too,” said Nikki Angeli, who was visiting with her husband and two daughters.
Having seen cat cafes in Japan on television, the family said they were delighted to find a cat cafe in London, since they cannot keep cats in their house.
“It’s definitely better than having a normal coffee by far,” said Angeli’s daughter Molly. “It does have a ‘crazy cat lady’ feel, but it’s such a warm and happy environment.”
Nearly a year after opening, the cafe still recommends booking 50 days in advance for a weekend slot.
Lady Dinah’s is also the world’s first crowd-funded cafe, funded entirely by individuals through an Internet campaign.
Pears said she has been contacted by “40, maybe 50 people” from across Britain and overseas interested in opening similar businesses.
“I think it’s such an appealing business because people can combine their love of cats with coffee,” she said.
There seems to be demand for cat cafes across Britain.
Edinburgh has had its own cat cafe since January, and Kitty Cafe will be opening in Nottingham in the English Midlands in March, advertising “feline company with tea room class.”
Brighton, on the South Coast of England, is set to see Koneko Cat Cafe open in the near future.
Cat cafes have been catching on across Europe as well in the last few years, with several opening in Germany, as well as in Italy, France, Hungary and Russia.
Takako Ishimitsu opened Europe’s first cat cafe, in Vienna, in May 2012, which continues to enjoy steady business.
She, too, has been contacted by people interested in setting up similar cafes, including regional authorities who want to change regulations to accommodate such businesses.
“Each cafe has its own unique feel and different ways to enjoy the cats,” she said, noting the variations in cat cafes around the world.
Cat cafes first opened in Taiwan in the late 1990s. The concept became internationally popularized when the cat cafe business expanded across Japan starting in 2005.