Indigo Baloch and Olivia Ciotoli’s first awareness of cat cafés came when one of them stumbled upon an article about the popularity of such establishments in Japan. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, that is the coolest thing. Hopefully we can visit it someday,’” recalls Ciotoli.
The concept is all in the name: a theme café where visitors can spend time with cats while enjoying a beverage. While the idea originated in Taiwan, cat cafés have flourished in Japan, where finding pet-friendly housing is often a challenge.
As similar cafés started cropping up around the U.S., Baloch and Ciotoli joked about opening one in Pittsburgh. “Then we [thought], ‘Wait, no, we could actually do this.’ So we started working on a business plan,” says Ciotoli.
And they’ve found plenty of enthusiastic support. On May 3, the two launched a Kickstarter to help fund what they’re calling the Black Cat Market. By May 24, they’d exceeded their $20,000 goal. A location for the café has yet to be finalized — Lawrenceville looks likely, though they’re open to other areas — but an opening is planned for this fall.
“When you walk in, it’s going to be pretty much your basic coffee shop,” with seating and a coffee bar, says Ciotoli. The cats will be in a separate room where “there will be some chairs, tables, places you can hang out and cuddle the cats if you want. But they’ll also have their own little cat towers where they can sit and relax,” she says. The Black Cat Market is partnering with the Animal Rescue League which will provide the cats, and will train café staff to do adoptions. “Theoretically, if someone came in, they could adopt the cat that day,” Ciotoli says. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement for cats and humans — socializing with people helps adopted cats transition to their new “fur-ever homes,” and studies have shown that spending time with kitties reduces anxiety in humans.
And, much like in Japan, the idea appeals to locals who can’t have pets of their own. “A lot of college students … seem really excited to get some cat cuddles in while they’re studying,” says Ciotoli.
Baloch, who is currently studying in Kyoto, is looking forward to bringing a bit of Japanese culture to Pittsburgh, and plans to introduce items like onigiri (rice balls) and taiyaki (a fish-shaped cake) to the menu, in addition to more typically Western pastries. “I love Japan and Japanese culture very much,” she says via email. “I want stepping into the café to transport our customers straight to Tokyo or Kyoto.”
Visit www.blackcatmarket.com for more information.
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