The Cat Cafe Goes Mobile
Janet Pao is taking adoption on the road with Moon Cat Cafe, a combination of good eats, chic merchandise and kitties looking for a home.
Janet Pao, owner of Moon Cat Cafe
My first cat cafe experience was underwhelming. I was given a can of soda, offered the option of buying a plastic-wrapped pastry that looked like something you would find in a 7-Eleven (I declined), and was led into a space that did not look much different from a rec room. There, I sipped my Diet Coke and played with the few shy cats that crouched around the room.
To be fair, the cafe had been open less than a month, and it’s possible it has improved since then. Still, it was not an inspiring experience. Imagine my delight, then, when I first set foot in the Moon Cat Cafe and found it to be everything a cat cafe experience should be—with an added twist. The Moon Cat Cafe, which operates around Los Angeles County, is, owner Janet Pao believes, the first mobile cat cafe in the world.
It resides in a renovated step van, and the words on its exterior make for an enticing invitation: “cats, coffee, fine goods” (though this blogger hopes that the word “tea” might be added one day). In the interior, the first section of the van is lined with a carefully curated selection of merchandise, including design finds such as a tea towel that is hand-screen printed with a horde of cats, delicate handmade mugs and cat pins with a vintage feel, with statements such as “In Cats We Trust” and “Fur Is for Petting.” Pao said she likes to work with women- and minority-owned businesses.
For $12, visitors receive a baked good and a coffee or bottle of water—and the privilege of hanging out with adoptable cats. But even in the matter of food and drink, Pao is picky. The coffee and baked goods served that day were from Los Angeles-area vendors and included desserts such as salted chocolate chip cookies and ube crinkle cookies (“ube” is Tagalog for purple yam, and, yes, they’re good).
Dessert and drink selected, I entered the cat portion of the cafe, which is set off from the food and merchandise area with a clear door and windows. The room includes tables and chairs, but, feeling catlike, I opted to sit on a comfy cushion on the floor. Nox, a black kitten, immediately descended from his perch and curled up in my lap. James, Nox’s brother, spent the entire time snug asleep in a very modish cat bed. Samantha, an inquisitive tabby who had to have her jaw reattached after being rescued some months ago from a collision with a car, alternated between seeking attention and staring, with her green-gold eyes, at the A/C unit in the ceiling, in awe of its steady thrum.
The room contains an appealing mix of furniture for cats and humans against a cool blue-gray backdrop, and I could imagine Pao picking out each piece with an eye for how the items would fit the space and design aesthetic.
Pao opened for business in December 2016. At first, she expected to sometimes travel with her own cats and sometimes host adoptables, but the amount of interest from local rescues has been so high that Pao only features adoptable cats in her van. A portion of the proceeds from her business always goes directly to the partnering pet shelter.
In high school, Pao volunteered at a few different pet rescues, but Moon Cat Cafe is her first business venture in the shelter scene.
“After [high school], with college and everything, I moved around a lot,” she said. “I went to school in the East Coast, grew up in the Midwest and worked in China for a little bit, so now I finally get to come back and partner with rescues in my own vehicle.”
At first, Pao looked in to opening a traditional brick-and-mortar cat cafe, but, with the high cost of Southern California real estate, she knew it wasn’t possible.
She said the cat cafe concept started in Taiwan in the early 1980s and has taken off in Asia, where space is a huge commodity and apartments and condominiums often don’t allow pets. So the cafes offer people who might not be able to own cats a way to interact with them. The more-recent American version of the cat cafe, which debuted a few years ago, has a variation, Pao said.
“That particular concept in the Asian fashion has not been as needed here, so people have actually brought over that concept and tweaked it in a really unique way where they host adoptable cats within the cat cafe,” she said.
For her, Moon Cat Cafe is an opportunity to not only help cats find forever homes, but to spread the word about the cat cafe concept, which, she said, many people still aren’t familiar with, and help the 501(c)(3) organizations she works with to familiarize people with their mission of adopting out cats as well as rescuing, fostering and trap-neuter-return programs.
The Moon Cat Cafe has been enthusiastically received both by those wanting to adopt and those who aren’t looking for a new pet, Pao said.
“When they see the outside of our truck, even if they have their own cat, they’re like, ‘Ooh, cats,’ and then they’re curious and they come up,” she said.
For my part, I left the Moon Cat Cafe without a new pet, although Nox and Samantha did their best to convince me. (Unfortunately, my cat, Amelia, is not looking for a sibling.) But I know I’ll be back—for the cookies, the cats, and because, in all the excitement, I forgot to buy a pin.
Carrie Brenner is senior editor for Pet Product News International. She has spent several years researching new products with the help of her cat, Amelia.