The Blue Cat Cafe, Austin’s first feline-devoted coffee spot that found its permanent location on the east side, is on track for a hopeful opening in fall. Founder Rebecca Gray has a new partner with fellow cat lover co-owner Jacques Casimir. He discovered her Kickstarter after becoming enthralled with the concept during a trip to Japan and became attached to the project in June. Casimir and his two cats were featured on an episode of My Cat From Hell, where he met Jackson Douglas, host of the show, and Kate Benjamin, the "cat-style expert." The two are consulting with the Blue Cat Cafe's build-out on Navasota Street.
Eater spoke to Casimir about the cafe’s progress so far, his take on the disputed land next door, and why the food will be vegan.
What’s the current status on Blue Cat Cafe?
Casimir: We’re really researching the concept. The Japanese model is all about [how] you can’t have cats where you live, and your space isn’t big enough, so this is the place to come in and enjoy cats. But in the U.S., that’s not the issue. [It’s] about making these cats adoptable. Our goal is to provide a high quality showroom so their personalities can come out. At the same time, we do realize that for us to be able to do this long-term, the business needs to be successful and viable, so we really need to focus on the cafe part.
What about the location on Navasota appeals to you?
Casimir: It’s East Austin, which is a growing, vibrant community. We’re right on Cesar Chavez, so there’s tons of people coming passing by. We’re planning on having evening lounge hours, as an alternative to the loud clubs.
Were you aware of the controversial property next door on Cesar Chavez?
Casimir: I think that it’s always a shame when a business has to leave a location, especially under dramatic and crazy circumstances. Obviously, all of that was before our time. Our goal is to be productive member of East Cesar Chavez community. We’re trying to reach out to all of the employees who worked there, the people who we feel like were truly most affected by that place being closed down. They’re welcome to come in any time. We want to make sure they’re taken care of, and let the legal system deal with owners, landowners, and all of that. It’s the sense of community it gave to the area [that] we’re hoping to replace that with our uniqueness. Do what we can to help the people that lost their jobs who we feel are the ones who are most affected and oftentimes aren’t represented in this dispute.
Is the Blue Cat Cafe property owned by the same company who owned the former Jumpolin space?
Casimir: Legally, it is not the same land. We are the building behind where that was. It’s the same owners. I think they’re making it into a parking lot.
How does the showroom of cats work?
A super highway of cat walkways in the ceiling area and up on the walls
Casimir: We’re looking it as: Dogs are employees, cats are independent contractors. We want to make sure that those cats go home with everything they need so that the adoption is successful. We’re going to have products that are used in our store for those cats available for sale. If you decide you like Snowball over here, we can tell you this is Snowball’s favorite bed, scratching pad. We can provide you that insight. You can come in and take a toy off the toy wall, play with it with a cat, and really get an intimate one-on-one experience with these products you might not get at a big box pet store. We’re hoping that people are able to go home with, not just the cat, but the information and tools so that the adoption is successful, and the cat doesn’t end up back in the circuit.
What is the food truck situation?
Casimir: We’re going to have our own food truck which will create food outside [because of the health code]. That way, we have more control over menu and quality control. If you come in, you can place an order inside and then they can delivery the food to you.
Will it still serve vegan fare?
Casimir: It just doesn’t make sense to cook meat that close to cats. They’re going to be focused on the food, and [stay] right next to the door and the window. It’s going to ruin the customer experience. If you’ve got beef or chicken on your plate and you get up... Just in terms of maintaining that good experience and making sure the cats are focused on people and not food, we’re not cooking any meat.
When is the projected opening date?
Casimir: Our goal is to be open by ACL. When everything is completely done, we want to have the cats living in here comfortably for a few weeks before bringing people in, so they’re comfortable with their surroundings. During that time, we’ll workshop and figure out our processes. We’re reading all of the reviews from all of the other cat cafes trying to learn from their mistakes, find their best practices, and see if we could implement that. We’re hoping mid-September.
Did construction start yet?
Make sure the cats are focused on people and not food
Casimir: We have started some minor work, but we haven’t started on the hard major work, like refinishing the concrete floors and all of those things, because we’re still waiting on a couple things for inspections. As soon as that happens, we hit the go and we’re looking at our construction time being about three to four weeks.
Tell me more about the interior set-up of the cafe
Casimir: We want to make sure that [the cats] have a situation where, whatever happens, there’s somewhere they can go and get away from the situation. Go somewhere and feel confident. A super highway of cat walkways in the ceiling area and up on the walls. We’re looking at getting a big tree put into the middle of the place connected to the highway that the cats can climb up above. We’re building a small stage, so we’re thinking of [hosting] MTV Unplugged-style quiet acoustic-style performances.
We’ve noticed a lot of the cat cafes don’t have any seating. They just expect you to sit on the floor. I think it also puts this onus that the cats are there to perform for you. We'll have little vignettes of what your home seating may look like, a couple of chairs, and cat products that are nice and fit into that style. Our seating areas will show those things and how these things can easily work into your normal life. If you choose to take a cat home, you can give it everything you need to be successful and happy.
Will there be other events before the opening?
Casimir: We’re planning on having some small event for our local neighbors here, because we know the site is in such a controversial area. Reach out to the neighbors, and explain who we are, and try to lay any fears they have. That we’re completely unrelated to the landowner, and are trying to do our thing in the community. As we slowly start building out, we’ll probably have some parties, events, until opening.