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A Little Cat With Your Cup of Joe?

by Phil Luciano | Photos by Ron Johnson |
Pic50

The Cat’s Meow Café is the first of its kind in this part of central Illinois

The Cat’s Meow Café in Bloomington peddles pours and purrs.

You can get coffee or tea, with a side order of cats. In addition to dishing up food and drink, the café provides cats to adopt. Or, you can just cuddle and chill.

“I just think people like the serotonin of coming in and petting a friendly kitty, and just having someplace to relax,” said owner Lauri Meins, 38.

Lauri Meins plays with one of the felines at The Cat’s Meow Café in Bloomington. Owned by Meins, the business serves food and drink, plus the opportunity to visit with adoptable cats
Lauri Meins plays with one of the felines at The Cat’s Meow Café in Bloomington. Owned by Meins, the business serves food and drink, plus the opportunity to visit with adoptable cats

The order counter is separate from the cat space, which guests can visit for $5. Some visitors bring along their drink or snack, as well as other accompaniments.

“People do their homework in here,” Meins said. “They meet up with their gal pals for a coffee or a pastry. It’s just a nice place to hang out.”

From Tokyo to McLean County

According to Forbes magazine, cat cafés started in Japan about 25 years ago and quickly became a national obsession. They started popping up on the U.S. coasts in 2014 and have been spreading since.

Meins encountered her first cat café a few years back in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“They have a cat café there called Naughty Cat Café,” Meins said. “And they have a big sign that said, ‘We’re not a strip club.’ I thought that was so funny.”

She also thought it was a good business idea: She could open the first cat café in central Illinois. But there was a snag in her copycat plan: Meins, who owns a hair salon and clothing boutique, had no other business experience.

“I have no (commercial) background in coffee shop, restaurant or animal care in any way,” she said. “So, it’s been quite the learning curve.”

Along the way, Meins was inspired by her love for animals. She has two fat black cats (Meatball and Noodle) and two tiny dogs (Bella and Izzy). She thought a café could help cats needing homes.

She found a partner in Pet Central Helps, a not-for-profit, no-kill pet shelter in Bloomington. Then she found a nook in a Bloomington strip mall. She opened in September.

A rent-a-cat opportunity

The café offers coffees, teas and other beverages, plus breakfast sandwiches, pastries and other treats. It’s walled off from the cat area, which guests can enter only after signing a waiver that states the rules, such as “No roughhousing” and “No waking a sleeping cat.”

At any one time, the cat space has hosted from seven to 16 felines.

“It just depends on how fast they get adopted,” said Meins.

Indeed, some guests come with the aim of adopting a cat. But for others, such as residents of apartments that don’t allow pets, the café provides a rent-a-cat opportunity.

That’s pretty much the situation for Matilda Rogozinski of Bloomington. The 15-year-old said her parents don’t want to keep cats at home. So, she can get her feline fix at The Cat’s Meow Café.

“Some of them are very friendly,” she said while stroking a black-and-white cat. “Some of them like to cuddle. Some of them do not. They’re fun to hang out with and nice to be around.”

Most visitors stick around for about 20 minutes. Bonding time helps cats socialize with people.

“I think the cats love it,” Meins said. “I mean, it’s a wonderful opportunity.”

Just don’t mix the food and the felines.

“No, no,” Meins said. “No feeding the friends. Nope, they’re here for visits only — visits and cuddles.”

And keep your eye on your snacks and drinks.

“Don’t leave your food unattended,” she said with a laugh. “They’re still animals.”

Phil Luciano

Phil Luciano

is a senior writer/columnist for Peoria Magazine and content contributor to public television station WTVP. He can be reached at [email protected]

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