“This began as an inspiration for me to have all the cats I wanted without actually owning 400 cats,” joked Alexis Dexter, owner of Barre’s Forget-me-not Flowers. Dexter’s passion for cats, shared by her partner, Logan Wells, is clear to anyone who meets the shop’s resident cats, Maisey and Abbey. After seeing examples of cat cafés online, Dexter and Wells were inspired to start the first cat café in Vermont, Dexter said. The Kitty Korner Cafe, which will open in April next door to Dexter’s flower shop on Main Street in Barre, began as a Kickstarter campaign.
“I’ve never Kickstarted anything before, but I had some friends who gave me tips and tricks,” Dexter said. “And we met our goal a month before the Kickstarter ended.” According to the Kitty Korner Café’s Kickstarter page, the fundraising campaign exceeded its $5,000 goal and now has 176 backers who have pledged $5,696 toward the project.
Along with serving coffee and cuteness, Kitty Korner Café will serve the community by teaming up with the Central Vermont Humane Society. Rather than filling the café with resident cats, Dexter envisioned it as a space for cats and people to find each other.
“The goal was to make sure all the cats were available for adoption,” Dexter said. “And that [the Central Vermont Humane Society] could rotate them out as they needed to.” Should the Humane Society need additional space for adoptable cats during springtime kitten season, Dexter said her café can help provide it.
“It’s something they (the Humane Society) are very excited about,” Dexter said, adding that all café cats are selected and cared for by the Humane Society. “They’ll come in and clean things up, feed them, the whole nine yards,” she said.
Designing Vermont’s first cat café was not without its challenges. Different states have different rules regarding cat cafés, so while Dexter found inspiration from cat cafes in Connecticut and Quebec, she had to keep in mind the rules of Vermont’s Department of Health.
“Vermont was pretty clear that cats could not be in the same areas as food prep, so we built a big ol’ wall down the middle of the place and changed it like 17 times,” Dexter said. “We redesigned more times than I had anticipated we would but, thankfully, it went well.”
The café seats up to 25 customers and will serve espresso, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and juice. There will also be an array of baked goods for sale made by local bakers with the instruction that the more cat-themed the better. Regular menu items will include muffins and cat-shaped cookies.
“La Panciata (in Northfield) is supplying raisin bread that’s going to be cut into the shape of little cats, so that’s going to be adorable,” Dexter said.
The lounge space can accommodate up to 12 cats and is separated from the cafe by a small annex featuring comfortable chairs, cat shelves for climbing, a window full of warm sunshine, and an impressive 8-foot tall cat tree built by Wells. The design has been approved by Abby and Maisey.
“As soon as we finished building them, we set the cats up on the shelves to see if they could figure it out,” Dexter said. “They’re like our little testers.”
Litter boxes are kept in a separate room that the cats can access through cat-sized doors decorated with little bathroom signs, Dexter said.
While food prep must be kept separate, customers may bring food and beverages into the cat lounge, providing they understand they will be eating in a space with cats.
Not only will the café’s cats bring smiles to customer’s faces, Dexter said the interaction will benefit the cats’ development.
“A lot of this is also socializing the cats with people,” she explained. “Some of these cats came from bad situations. They may not be overly trusting, and this is a good way for them to reincorporate themselves with humans,”
It will also be informative for the Humane Society.
“If halfway through the day we find out that this cat does not like toddlers, we can say ‘Hey, we learned something about this one that you might want to keep in mind,’” Dexter said.
Dexter plans to open Kitty Korner Café after a transport of cats arrives at the Central Vermont Humane Society from South Carolina.
“We’re hoping to have a soft, silent opening that will ease into the big opening, which will be an adoption event with the humane society so they will be onsite to do adoptions,” Dexter said.