People and Places

Success! Feline Café Ottawa surpasses fundraising goal, set to open in spring

Cat people, notorious for their support of all things feline, contributed to a Kickstarter campaign and came out to parties in support of Feline Cafe Ottawa, a new cat-focussed coffeeshop where patrons can enjoy the company of felines while eating vegan food and drinks. It’s slated to open this spring. Now that they’ve raised the necessary cash to open, we spoke with entrepreneur Josée Cyr, who took a paws to chat about raising money and awareness about rescuing stray cats, as well as her plans for the cafe once it’s open:

Feline Cafe Ottawa entrepreneur Josée Cyr
Feline Cafe Ottawa entrepreneur Josée Cyr

You set a goal, people pounced, and you surpassed it. You must be feeling pretty good.

We hit our minimum, which was $5,000 and got to $6,800 before the campaign closed. Our stretch goal of $10,000 was the ideal, but for Ottawa’s market, you have to set the goal lower, because if you don’t reach it, you get nothing.

You launched your crowdfunding campaign with a party. Was it the cat’s pajamas?

It was a chance to meet me, try samples from the menu, and learn what it was all about. We had the Kickstarter page open there and had about 80 people come through. We hit the 50 percent mark within the first 24 hours of launching

Where does the money go?

Kickstarter takes a cut of just under 10 percent, and 25 percent goes to rewards people have chosen in exchange for the pledge, so that’s mugs or gift packs. I allotted 15 percent for permits, business licences, and those kinds of fees, and 50 percent for renovations.

Now that the cat’s in the bag, can you tell us the location?

I have an offer to lease in Hintonburg, but we’re still in the conditional period. I was considering the Glebe and that would be good too, but I find people are more touristy there, whereas in Hintonburg people are there to relax. If all goes well, we start renovating in January.

What kinds of renovations are needed for cats?

In Ontario, you can’t serve food in the same area as animals, so I would have to build two areas in one shop. The plan is to have the coffee shop area in the front and a cat area in the back. There will be a private area for the cats to get away and use the litter boxes.

What kind of cat furniture will you have? I have seen skywalks at other cat cafés.

We’re figuring that out now. I am working with a local business called re4m. Heather Jeffery, the owner, takes commercial waste and turns it into fixtures for businesses.

So, furniture with nine lives, so to speak. You’ve had a couple of turns yourself. You made a career switch recently. Tell us about it.

I received a bachelor of commerce from Laurentian in 2013. I had heard of these cat cafés and went to check out a few in Montreal. Nothing really clicked until a couple of months later where I wanted a change in my work situation. I started to reflect on what I am good at, what I love to do, and what the city needs, and remembered the cat cafés in Montreal. I started working with Invest Ottawa. They have good programs for people who want to start businesses. I was able to envision the business before I announced it publicly.

Where did you go in Montreal?

I spoke with the owner of Cafe Venosa. I reached out to her because I liked her model and ethical standards. She works with shelters and runs a vegan café. She’s been great.

Did you get any practical cat-related advice from her?

It’s nothing she said, but I noticed how she has the little sugar packets in mason jars so cats weren’t knocking them off the table.

Have you started partnerships with shelters?

I adopted one of my cats from the Ottawa Stray Cat Rescue. I started volunteering with them and I liked the way they did their vetting and adoptions. I would like to work with them and structure it so that the café is a foster home while they are still under the care of the rescue. The adoption process would go through the rescue organization.

How many kitties will be at the café?

My ideal would be six to eight cats. I will work with the rescue organization to ensure that they would be happy in that environment before taking them in.

Is there a political bent to cat cafés? I see rescue ones and others that have only one type of breed.

I get those questions a lot, like ‘Where do the cats come from?’ And, ‘Can I bring my own cat?’ I think different types of cat cafés will appeal to different people. The one in Chelsea would appeal to those who might be allergic to cats because they have the most hypoallergenic cats there, whereas I appeal to those who want to adopt a rescue cat or visit with them.

What other plans do you have for the café?

I want to do events with organizations that work with anxiety, stress, and PTSD, as well as movie nights. I really want to bring in a yoga teacher who will conduct classes, so you can do yoga with cats running around.

Catnip time. Could you share a recent feline find from the internet?

A fun find is a local Ottawa blog called Four Little Paws. [Liz Wheeler] shows you how to make a DIY kitty advent calendar!

Just one of the pages in Liz Wheeler's Four Little Paws' advent calendar
Catvent, Liz Wheeler’s Four Little Paws’ DIY kitty advent calendar