Have lunch and find adoptable cats in the same place? You have got to be kitten me! Occasionally, a non-profit and a business collaborate, creating a powerful cause that gives back to the community. Kitty Cantina is a café offering coffee, food, and a chance to spend time with shelter cats. The full service espresso bar café is located in North Spokane at 6704 North Nevada Street.
Spokane natives and Kitty Cantina owners, Justyn, and Tori Cozza. are high school sweethearts, love coffee, cats, and share a culinary background. Justyn completed a teaching degree at Gonzaga University and later decided to go a different path.
Inspired by a love for cats and a trip to a cat café in Oregon, the couple wanted to start something similar. Before starting the cat café, Justyn said he did a lot of restaurant work, including serving and bartending.
He said he always wanted to open his own culinary establishment someday. His wife, Tori, had similar goals and wanted to incorporate food service with cats. The couple, inspired by a cat café in Oregon, already had been fostering cats for a while together, and so the idea of a cat café was born.
The concept of the cat cafe originated in Taiwan, the first one opening in Taipei in 1998, according to multiple sources. Several street cats would always come into the restaurants and the restaurant owners eventually allowed them to interact with tourists, resulting in the world’s first cat café.
Although, Taiwanese cat cafes were more of a fun way to entertain tourists, this cat café is an alternative to direct shelter adoptions. Visitors can have the experience of interacting with the animals in an environment that is comfortable for both the cat and the potential adopter. Visitors not interested in adoption can also pay to just spend time with the cats,
Customers can enjoy choosing food from the menu such as a custom bagel or breakfast sandwich. The café also features a full-service espresso bar. Recalling his wife’s time as a barista, Justyn said she is very particular about flavor and taste. “She has worked in coffee for years and years,” he said.
Justyn said starting a café is truly a labor of love as there are so many factors involved in planning and executing such an expensive and time-consuming venture. He admitted that initially he was surprised by how intensive the cleaning and cat assessments would be.
The Cozzas faced many challenges opening the cafe including insurance liabilities, rental space, health department regulations, acquiring supplies, and cleaning, etc. Because of the nature of the business, there is five hours of cleaning every single day and extensive supply usage involved. He said because of these factors, the café has no choice but to charge customers a fee to visit with the cats.
Justyn recalls that finding the location was extremely difficult. “Most landlords were not interested in accommodating animals and the concept” he said. He claims this is because the landlords felt it was too high risk for insurance liabilities.
After searching for a while, they finally found a rental space where the landlord happened to be an avid shelter supporter. “He was so ecstatic to have us, he kind of does a lot of donations to the shelter already” he said.
The Cozzas had to liquidate all their assets and had initial trouble securing funding to start the new venture. This concept was unfamiliar to the Spokane area and the couple struggled to get the necessary support and funds. “The banks were just not interested,” said Justyn.
He stated that although at first, the couple was very discouraged, they eventually got half of the funding they requested thanks to a good friend. The friend said that although they were first time business owners and it was a high-risk business, he was going to gamble on them. “Don’t let me down” he said. Recalling his feelings after hearing the good news made him even more determined than ever. “I have grit, I will die before I let it fail, so trust me, I am going to make it work,” said Justyn.
As part of the adoption process, the café requires those chosen to adopt to “sleep on it.” Justyn said that it is surprising how many people change their mind. By having such strict criteria for adoption, the café owners feel that the adoption is more likely to be successful. “We pride ourselves on the difficult adoption process.” he said.
“Get involved! Fostering is incredibly rewarding, but not everyone is in the position to open their home-and that’s ok!” Tori said. “It is important to educate, advocate, and spread awareness about the shelter’s efforts and animal welfare” she added.
Kitty Cantina cats are all from the local Spokanimal shelter, fully vaccinated and in top physical condition. The cats can only be adopted through a lengthy process that begins online . While the café has similar adoption policies to the shelter, they have also implemented additional safeguards.
Some of these safeguards include age restrictions and other rules the potential adopter must adhere to. The process is very competitive and when a potential adopter is chosen, the café enacts a personality matching process between the cat and the potential adopter.
“We did not expect this many cats to get adopted, we thought maybe a hundred a year, and it was like five or six hundred” he said. Adoption efforts at Kitty Cantina have been highly successful and there are times when the café struggles to have enough cats to accommodate visits. Justyn and his wife feel that this shows it is working very well.