remember the first time I heard about the cat café concept on a 2015 episode of Shark Tank. Like the judges (who made no investments in the business), I was skeptical about the appeal of combining food and animals in the same experience. Since then, I have heard about cat cafés popping up in major cities across the country. My interest in visiting one of these cafés has risen as they’ve grown in popularity. I was curious: why is this becoming such a phenomenon? I have a cat at home, and I can eat breakfast with him anytime! Luckily, Sauté Magazine took me on an adventure to Catmosphere Laguna, whose opening made them the first cat café in Orange County. I sat down with Chef Caroline Smile and owner Gail Allyn Landau to find out what I might be missing about the magic of a place like Catmosphere.
Upon entering, guests can order food and drinks to enjoy in the bright café area. To my surprise, the cats were in a playroom completely separate from the café. Caroline clued me in on the backstory — they never really considered having the cats and food in the same space, and even if they wanted to, California state laws would’ve prohibited it. Instead, a bar area next to a large window allows guests to enjoy their food and watch the cats from a distance before heading into the playroom. The menu consists of a variety of toasts, salads and small plates. Additionally, guests can purchase alcoholic beverages, coffee and tea. Visitors must enjoy food outside of the playroom but can bring non-alcoholic beverages in with the cats.
Between the café and cat lounge, there is a clear difference in atmosphere. Gail’s description of the contrasting music styles in both places describe it perfectly. In the café, reggae music lends itself to a vibrant, fun atmosphere. It’s the perfect high-energy place to fuel up with tasty bites and drinks before meeting the cats. On the other hand, she explained, the cats listen to spa and meditation music all day long! The environment when interacting with the cats is therefore much more soothing and therapeutic for both the people and animals.
The Heart of Catmosphere: Adoption and Rescue
When Gail and I discussed the story of why she decided to open this café, I uncovered the magical aspect of cat cafés I was searching for. At Catmosphere, all the cats are rescues. A lifelong cat owner, Gail told me about her personal involvement in volunteer work through local shelters and cat foundations. We talked about how the animal shelter environment can often be dreary or disheartening. For families that are looking to adopt a cat, it can be difficult to get to know the true personality of the cat in such a setting. But Catmosphere provides an alternative. A one or two-hour reservation in the cat lounge allows those looking to adopt to spend quality play time with 10-12 different cats. After two visits, if there’s a particular cat they’ve fallen in love with, guests can begin the adoption process.
Furthermore, Catmosphere is a place for those who can’t have a cat at home to get their kitty fix. It’s perfect for those with cat allergies in the family, or kids with parents who don’t want to have pets. Gail told me that one guest recently visited the café even though she has cats at home because her husband won’t let her adopt any more! An appeal to people in such a variety of non-cat-friendly situations makes Catmosphere a good go-to getaway for people of all ages to enjoy the company of feline friends without the things that might typically hold them back.
Especially in comparison to a steel cage at the animal shelter, Catmosphere cats are living a life of luxury. Though they are out during the day interacting with visitors, they always have the option to retreat to their cat condos, where Gail told me they go after-hours. The cats also have constant attention from guests, and are always supervised by a staff member or volunteer. Their lounge area is filled with colorful toys and has clearly been designed with the intention of making the experience as fun as possible for both the cats and humans.
Commitment to Showcasing Local Vendors and Artists
Home to the Sawdust Festival and Pageant of the Masters, no wall in Laguna is complete without local art. Catmosphere is no exception — the café area features cat prints, statues and even a cat-themed book, all by local artists. The commitment to small businesses in the community extends from the art on the walls to the food that’s served. They purchase coffee from Laguna Coffee Company, and many of the wine selections are sourced locally. Even the macarons with Catmosphere’s logo piped on are made by a small business the chef found at an Orange County farmer’s market.
Overall, I am most impressed by the ethics on display at Catmosphere. Though the toasts are tantalizing and the colored wines on display made me wish I was 21, it’s really all about the cats here. In speaking to Gail, I could see that she had a firm commitment to making sure she provided the best setup possible for the cats. Her passion for furry friends manifested in a space that aims to connect those looking to adopt with the right cat for them. Frankly, I can’t think of a better makeover of the animal shelter experience — good food, soothing music and a shared love of felines — it’s the ideal environment for cats and cat lovers alike.
Catmosphere Laguna | 381 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA 92651 | catmospherelaguna.com