Cats and coffee.
That’s the equation Cheryl Glover decided to bring to Madison with Cat Cafe Mad. It’s a simple model, but it has taken years of work to establish herself, her business and her relationship with the community. The Badger Herald sat down (surrounded by the furry little creatures) to talk to Glover and see how she’s grown the cafe from the bottom up.
The following interview was edited for style and clarity.
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The Badger Herald: How long has Cat Cafe Mad been in business?
Cheryl Glover: We opened almost exactly six months ago.
BH: What was your business model inspired by? Why cats and coffee?
CG: It started with my daughter who is a University of Wisconsin Ph.D. candidate. Last year she won a scholarship and was in Korea for a year. My son and I went to visit her in Seoul, and one of the first things she did was take us to a cat cafe.
We were just having an absolute ball there. [It was] so much fun. [My kids] said, “Let’s start one, Mom. Let’s bring this back to the States.”
I was like, “okay.” I sat there in the cafe and wrote my business model. Over the next two weeks, I would [go to the cafe] and sit there and watch how they did everything.
BH: How long was the process from scribbling notes in the cafe in Korea to opening your own cafe here in Madison? What were some hurdles?
CG: It took almost a full year. I’m a commercial realtor, so I knew about the space. I knew about the restrictions as far as the city went, and I set off to get the right zoning and space. Madison’s health department was much more welcoming than other cities. They immediately said, “As long as you’re not a restaurant, we can do this.”
BH: What is the main philosophy behind Cat Cafe Mad?
CG: The main idea is to give people a place where they can go and have the purrs and play with cats and have the fun and the comfort of having a pet. A lot of people cannot have pets because their landlords won’t allow it or because they are at school.
We provide a place where they can come. We provide that space in between. It is a place of recreation. We have board games, trivia nights, yoga every other Sunday, belly dancing, movies, anime and a lot of other events.
BH: You talk about the cafe being a recreational place, but it also serves another purpose of raising awareness for cat adoption. Can you talk about how you focus on adoption versus shopping?
CG: If you think about it, what happens is you either go to a shelter and spend five minutes with a cat or you go to a store like PetSmart and again you spend five minutes with a cat. To me, that’s like getting married at first sight.
Now, you have this cat for the rest of your life. It’s a lifetime commitment you made after five minutes. Then you get this cat home and it’s mean or doesn’t play. What happens here is people come in and spend the whole day. They go home, and then they come back. They spend more time and understand its behavior better. When they finally take the cat home, they know the cat. We’re doing really well on adoption, almost one a week.
We can’t even keep up on our adoption board. Shelter From the Storm was the first shelter that approached us and they said, “you have no idea how important this is to our adoption program.” We tried it and the fosters turned out great. They adapt really quickly.
They live in small cages in the shelters and when they come here they have a full space to themselves. There’s so much space, and it gives not only the cats but the people an easier way to look at adoption.
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BH: How have people likened to the cat cafe?
CG: The community at first had some negative reactions. We had mad emojis on Facebook and comments like “oh these poor cats.”
But, these cats are living in luxury. They have food 24/7, water around the clock and so much space. They get a huge amount of care because there is always someone giving them attention. They live in this wonderful environment where they always have people who love them and care for them.
It is a new concept in the United States. But It’s 20 years old around the world. It’s not new in Asia or Europe.
Because of that, the health departments are not bending over backwards to help. There’s a lot more restrictions in the United States. People are just not used to it, but they start to come around when they get to play with these cuddly, wonderful things that reduce your blood pressure, make you feel comfortable and take the stress away.
BH: I think it’s pretty cool that you’re fostering this new concept in the States. Have you seen other cat cafes prove successful here?
CG: There are a few cat cafes around the country. We have a Facebook page where we get to talk to each other, but it’s hard to make it for a number of reasons. One is the costs of medical and care expenses. The medical costs alone are huge when you have that many cats. They have to stay healthy. If one cat gets sick, it can cost us over $1,000 because all the other cats get sick. There’s a high risk opening a cafe like this.
BH: What are some immediate goals you’re trying to reach here?
CG: My goal right now is membership. Membership is something that gives people unlimited time, which is what I think they need. This would allow them to get to know the cats better and us to get to know them better. It’s much more like a family environment, and it seems more like hanging out with your own pets. That’s our real goal.