Amber and Andrew from the Cattyshack Cafe Share the Ins-purr-ation For Their Business
Amber and Andrew started the Cattyshack Cafe, the first cat cafe in Fort Myers, Florida, where feline fans can find adoptable cats, coffee, food, craft beer and wine. Cattyshack Cafe is a coffee shop and lounge with a separated area dedicated to interacting with adoptable rescue cats and kittens. While saving lives and enriching others, Cattyshack Cafe provides a home for adoptable cats that would have been otherwise overlooked at an animal shelter. Amber and Andrew's goal is to find wonderful homes for their cats, while provided a high-touch cafe experience for their human patrons. They believe that "believe every day should be vaCATion in PURRadise!"
Below is an edited transcript from our conversation with Amber and Andrew.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Everybody, welcome back to Stickers on the Mic here at the end of October and Halloween weekend. Very excited to be dialing in Amber and Andrew from Fort Myers, Florida, and the Cattyshack Cafe. Welcome.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Thanks for having us.
Andrew, StickerGiant: All right, let's just get right into it. Cattyshack Cafe. Where does this come from?
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: Well, Cattyshack Cafe, we're southwest Florida's first cat cafe located in Fort Myers, Florida. For those that aren't familiar with the cat cafe, and I totally understand if you're not, picture a traditional cafe when you walk in, full espresso bar, sandwiches, pastries, beer and wine, you can get something to eat, something to drink, hang out and then we got a big glass wall that's looking into a cat lounge filled with adoptable cats and kittens in partnership with our local humane society.
You can always get something to eat and watch the cats from the glass, and then if you want to engage with the cats, we work on a reservation system. We get a lot of people in the cat lounge every day. The one thing all the cats have in common is, they're all available for adoption.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We say, you can come in, get a glass of wine, drink beer, eat a bagel, pet a cat. If you fall in love, you can adopt them and take them home. Otherwise, you come another day, drink another beer, pet another cat and just have fun.
Andrew, StickerGiant: That's wild. When did you start this?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We opened our doors June 18th of 2020, right in the middle all of the fun, but we spent about two years prior to that in our marketing development phase where we traveled around to over 50 other cat cafes. 50?
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: 20.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: 20. 5 states, 20 cat cafes and took what we liked and didn't like about all of the other ones and put it into ours. We like to think we're the superior version. There are other cat cafes in the US, the first one started in California in 2014, but they're still very few and far between, and the business model itself is not standardized. Some places just have a room full of cats and maybe a vending machine in the corner, and then you have ours with the full coffee, espresso, beer and wine. Standalone cafe included.
Andrew, StickerGiant: All right. It's like a restaurant but then you happen to have cats, although they're obviously the feature of the marquee. Ma-cat-rons, I'm looking at the menu, folks. Anyway. Talk a little bit about creating a brick and mortar. You said you spent two years doing it. That puts you at like '18 and '19, 2018 and 2019. Then you're like, "Sweet and good, we got the space, we got the concept." Where were you in the stage of getting the store opened before COVID hit basically in March of 2020?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We definitely thought we would be open sooner, but finding a location was hassle number one. With it being a unique business concept, there was a lot of hesitation. All of that was happening before COVID. Thank goodness. We found the spot, but then once we started our construction build out, we ran into all kinds of delays because of the delays related to COVID, and then when we were finally ready to open our doors in June, in Florida things were a little more relaxed, which helped us, but we actually think COVID might have benefited us in our first year because we have that positive mission, and people were looking for companionship and some positive way to give back.
We actually just completed our 1,000th adoption about two weeks ago, so just over a year of being open. We were averaging about two adoptions a day, which is radically redefining the adoption process in our area and helping get cats out of the kill shelters. Cats who may not have ever had a chance were actually getting exposure and getting adopted, which we love being part of.
Andrew, StickerGiant: You have no shortage of cats, though?
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: If we run out of cats, we've done an amazing job. There's no way at all we'll run out of cats.
Andrew, StickerGiant: They're just everywhere, right? That's wild. You made me think of something you said, it was helpful for you. You said also it's unique. I'm curious, how do you do the zoning? How do you operate essentially an animal clinic or whatever, and a restaurant? Those seem like the kinds of things that don't really mix very well.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We'll have to charge you $200 an hour to give you the consultation that you seek for this. Just kidding. That is a question that we do get a lot. It does vary from county to county, state to state. Because the cafe and the cats are completely separated by not only a wall of windows, but also a double door vestibule system and a separate HVAC system with pressurized air, which is an additional step we chose to take. It wasn't required, but we thought that that was important.
That's how the food and the cats in the same place is allowed [unintelligible 00:05:26].
Andrew, StickerGiant: It's not a thing at all. You just navigated that, to start in, sounds like you put all your ducks in a row. That's pretty cool.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: I had to do a lot of educating.
Andrew, StickerGiant: That's what I say, you learned a lot.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We learned a lot and then we educated those in our community. We started, way before we opened, speaking with our county commissioners and doing public events where people can learn more about us and really get an understanding. Because as soon as you say cats and coffee in one place, they think there's going to be a whisker on top of their macaroons.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Yes. That actually wasn't what I thought necessarily. I just think of it from the build-up perspective and just business development side. You have to budget for that. It shouldn't be a surprise and also you want to have a straight answer for people when you're marketing it. You got the store, are there people rockin' your gear?
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: Yes. Sure. Stickers obviously.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Masks have been huge. There's definitely a part that we have been able to be creative with. Our name Cattyshack is a play off the movie from the '80s, which was a golf-themed movie. We do have a golf theme in the store with a little putting green and a cat-sized golf cart and golf bags that have been retrofitted for the cats to climb into. We've had a lot of fun with our merchandise, our T-shirts. Our stickers sell really well. We also have custom cat toys and stuff, mugs and cups, all that kind of thing.
Our brand has become synonymous with fun and creative and we like that. We're fun, creative people and so we like to find ways to really use that as an outlet and use it towards our benefit in the business.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Yes, being creative is the greatest thing. That's why I like talking to people like you. Before you started doing this, Andrew and Amber, take a sec each to address this. What did you have in your background? Obviously, you like cats, but what was the nudge to go all in on this?
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: I think a lot of people say, "Oh, well, you must have run a cafe before or a restaurant or something," and the answer to that is, "Not at all." My previous career was as a professional poker player. I did that for about 10 years. Man. It was a cool life, a little out of control, was way fun, but my epiphany at the end of each day was, what good am I doing for the world. I'm just taking from people. There was something that was missing from it.
I knew I wanted to create win-win transactions instead of having to take from someone to win. That's essentially the foundation of a business, you're creating win-win situations for people. I knew I wanted to start a business, I knew there had to be some sort of strong social mission. I wanted to combine it with animals, because animals are just the absolute best, you want to enjoy what you do. Landed on the idea of a cat cafe and it was a golden idea for us and we just never turned back.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Yes, and as his fiancée, I can say, I call him Mr. Save the World and I'm Mrs. Pay the Bills. He has to go out and help and I have the, let's figure out how to make logistics work, and so when you put the two together-- I've actually worked in higher ed for about 15 years at the college level, but together, we've just been figuring it out, the marketing piece, running two separate businesses at the same time basically.
We have really strong partnerships within our community, which is very important to us to support local businesses. We are partnering with our local humane society, which is where all the cats come through. It was really important to us to not just have an impact in our tiny little area, but far reaching and long lasting, and we feel like having only been around for over a year, we do feel like we're on track to really do that.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Is there actually like a business side of the cat? Obviously, the adoption process and all that, do you make money off of that, I guess?
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: During the adoption process, we have all sorts of things that you can purchase. Anything from our apparels, from beer to hat.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: The guests do pay an entry fee to interact with the cats. We chose to donate 100% of all the adoption fees back to our rescue agency so that they can continue doing what they're doing in our community, and guests pay $15 for 50 minutes of interaction, and that's how we're able to support all the food and litter and medicine and beds and all the fun things for the cats. Whereas, any purchases made in the cafe are sustaining the cafe and helping a little bit--
Andrew, StickerGiant: Yes, paying the rent or whatever.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Keeping the lights on.
Andrew, StickerGiant: To keep the lights on and getting more inventory and marketing that thing, there's a light. They're the same thing, but they very much are different operations.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Logistics-wise we receive deliveries of new cats about three times a week. While we hate to refer to them in terms of supply and demand, we do receive a delivery truck of cats multiple times a week.
Andrew, StickerGiant: How many cats are on this truck?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Yes. We keep between 20 and 25 at any time. As some leave, some more come and we've just been cycling that way since we opened.Andrew, StickerGiant: That's amazing. You looked like you got some good sponsors and yes, you were saying you have some fun with your brand voice. You've got the VIP, the very important person, [unintelligible 00:10:50]. Completely absurd a little bit. You sounds like things are clicking. I've talked to a lot of people who talked it out in the past year. It sounds like you're thriving a little bit, which is great. What do you thinking what's next?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We've been expanding our special events lately. We do cat yoga, trivia night with cats, movie night with cats. We're about to do a comedy night with cats, which hasn't been officially announced yet. We're going into that direction. We're getting very interested in finding other ways that we can give back to the community, whether it's through contributing a percentage of our sales, but I don't know, we want to expand our brand. We just haven't decided if that's in the form of another physical location or perhaps some accessories or pet related products. We've got some momentum and we want to keep that going.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Yes, and it looks like you're hiring too. Talk a little bit about the partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University or whatever- how did that kind of functions with what you do.
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: When I knew I wanted to start a business, I didn't have a college degree and I thought it just made sense I should go to the school. I was just right down the road and get a business degree. I just thought, why not get all the help I can possibly get? By the time I graduated, I thought I was probably going to go open a sports bar or something and give a percentage of its proceeds back to some sort of charity.
Then just learning about the process of opening a business like that through the school, they guided me into a different direction. Right after I graduated, I was excited to be out of there and then I just went right back. I went and hung out there. They have a school of entrepreneurship and I would just hang out there all the time. I had some ideas of which business I wanted to do. They really gave me the motivation to go ahead and do the cat café one because that- every check mark of what we wanted to do. They guided me in so many ways. On just starting the LLC, to doing paperwork, to getting legal stuff together. Introduced me to the right people in the city that could guide me on what parts of town we can open it in. They just played a huge role in helping one of their alumni get a business off the ground.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: They have a really great program at that university. They have what is similar to shark tank, where you can go and present your idea to a bunch of investors who either can invest or give feedback. We learned a lot through that. We were the first brick and mortar attempts to go through the program. Right?
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: Yes.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: There was a lot that even to them was unknown in terms of helping us figure all of that out, but it was just nice to have that foundation and someone to help us help ourselves.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Nice. Yes. Is that the runway program that you talked about?
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: Exactly. Yes.
Andrew, StickerGiant: That's very cool. Yes.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We got a few more confused looks than we did dollars, but it was still helpful because we learned what we needed to learn to help others understand the concept.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Yes. It's all validation along the way. Someone not understanding what you're doing doesn't mean you're not onto something. That means they might not understand anything. Right?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: That's probably been one of the biggest things to us that just make us smile internally. When we used to be out and about in public and we're always wearing our merchandise or handing out stickers or whatever it is and we would say, have you ever heard of the cat café? People are like, "a what?" Now a year later, we go out and either our stickers are already on people's cars or we mention it and they're like, "Oh, my gosh, I love that place." We find ourselves having to explain it even less and less and less, which is how we know that it's working.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Nice. This is all very fun and I'm glad that it's working. We appreciate you. Other than coming down to Fort Myers, where can folks engage with you and what you all are trying to do on social media?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Yes, absolutely. We have a really fun following on TikTok, where we do good morning and goodnight videos every day and lots of videos in between. They get very excited when Andrew goes in for the first time every morning and he goes around and talks to every one of them. They all have cute little bow ties and name tags. You get to learn the cats' personalities. On Facebook and Instagram, we post multiple times every day. We do live videos on the days when we get "deliveries of cats". You get to see the unboxing of the cats.Andrew, StickerGiant: [laughs] I love unboxing but that's not what it means. [laughs] I'm so sorry.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: That's when you get to see for the first time, in fact, that's when we get to see for the first time, whether it's an adult or a kitten or orange or black, or the funny names that come through there. That's most of what has brought people into our social media. We have cats named traffic cone and twig and, what's some of the other, Budweiser. We get some pretty funny named cats.
Andrew, StickerGiant: They have their own names?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Yes, they come pre-named and we get to try to fit it on their names.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Do cats really respond to their names though?
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: Absolutely.
Andrew, StickerGiant: They do? Okay. I'm not a cat person. I'm not really a dog person. I have three little kids and I got enough with the three of them right now. We had cats when I was really really little, my parents got rid of them because they just didn't like me. I don't know if it's that I don't like them. I think that they didn't like me because I was the baby, but that was 47 years ago. In the meantime, cat talk is something you're having fun with. I can tell just by looking at you.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Absolutely. One of the major benefits of the cat café business model is that, we don't have any kennels, there's no cages. The cats have over a thousand square feet of free roaming space on multiple levels. There's giant palm trees they can climb, there's things they can get in and under, so when you come in and interact with the cats for that 50-minute time period, you really get to see their true personality. They're not scared and skittish because you've just taken them out of a kennel. There's not dark barking dogs in the next room- we're dog lovers but--
Andrew, StickerGiant: Yes, but those are not-- literally they're cats and dogs, you know what I mean? You set up just looking on Instagram. It's calm and it's chill and it's all for them. Right? It probably helps their psychology and their, I guess, mental health. You know what I mean?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We get people who come in and say, "I have a baby at home or I have a dog at home. I need a cat that's going to do well with that," and because we're around them and we see how they interact, we're able to say this cat would do well in that room and this cat wouldn't, so it makes a better cat to human match, which then relates to less returns in the future, which in the animal adoption world, unfortunately is an issue. They get adopted, they get home and then they bring them back.
Andrew, StickerGiant: I was wondering, how much of a revolving door do you see?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: So much less than your standard adoption process.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Really?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Yes.
Andrew, StickerGiant: That's good. That's probably great for the cats and the people. Yes, people went crazy on cats and dogs during COVID. Right? That need for that, like you said, companionship, was probably really helpful for you.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: For sure, and just something fun to do, something safe. That 50-minute reservation allows us 10 minutes between every group to re-sanitize, clean, and get the room ready so it's a safe environment. We limit the number of people every hour. All of our staff and volunteers wear masks. Even during that time of uncertainty, it was a place where people felt comfortable coming, whether they were just coming into the café to have coffee or whether they were spending an hour in the room, interacting with the cats.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Yes. I guess I didn't think about it too. The fee is just to go in the room, past the glass. You could just like, I come with my laptop, do my work and watch these cats [crosstalk]. People like to do that?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Absolutely. We've seen a lot of--
Andrew, StickerGiant: They drop a tip for the cats at all?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Yes.
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: If you want, yes.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Not that they're performers, but--
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Some of them are [crosstalk]. They'll entertain you though.
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: With the big palm trees and everything for them to run up and jump on, they're full entertainment.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We also have cat TV on the big screen and so, you'll see the cats trying to catch the birds or the squirrels or whatever it is through the TV. Yes, we've seen of it's great first date place. Actually, we've seen the same guy have a couple of different first dates there over time. If you're an animal lover and that's important to you, then it's a great place to come, and if there's nothing to talk about, you can make fun of the cat with one ear. Whatever the situation is.
Andrew, StickerGiant: That's so funny, people go on dates. I guess, yes, that's great. Real quick, other than like super punny names of the menu, talk a little bit about the development overall of how you created the food service side of this café. What makes it different than any other, other than the cats, of course.
What are the signature things that you find that you're really connecting, customers are connecting with? Food is great, right? If you get a thing that works for people, whether it's their favorite coffee drink that they're willing to spend five or six bucks on, right? That stuff's not cheap, or whatever, how have you kind of developed that side of it?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We've been super lucky we hired a wonderful general manager who was very aware of the coffee world and has been in the coffee industry for many years. We also are partnered with a local coffee roasting company. They locally roast all of the coffee, we get it fresh every week, multiple times a week sometimes. We actually have very good coffee, which surprises people when they come in. All of our menu items are codified, like you mentioned, but we're constantly changing and adding new things. We have drink specials that rotate pretty much every week in our [crosstalk] [unintelligible 00:20:18]. We have Meow [unintelligible 00:20:24], in the morning we have yoga. We really do try to cater to the masses. Even if you don't like cats, it's still an environment that you would be comfortable coming in because either you like, oh, if you like supporting local businesses, or you'd like coffee, it's definitely not exclusive to non-cat people, which was important to us.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Yes. People need to eat and if the WiFi is any good that's, you know, some people [crosstalk]. That's it, you know what I'm saying? It's like the WiFi and coffee, and a couple of hours later I might still be there.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We're near the universities, we're able to do study packages and discounts for the students.
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: Airport is across the street, so very close to there. We get people that are waiting, or their flights going to be in a couple of hours, so they come hang out at the cat cafe, get something to drink.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Have a few putts? Do you have like a putting competition or anything? Do you have the cats engage in that?
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: Putting is surprisingly very difficult in there. As long as one of the cats sees what you're doing, you're not going to get that ball in the hole. They don't like it.
Andrew, StickerGiant: That's hilarious. Gosh, we've covered a lot of ground. Very cool story. Good, obviously you saw a market. When you were doing that, speaking of the market and doing the research, you went to 5 states and 20 different cafes. What states like, who else is really doing this?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Almost every state has a cat cafe. Would you say every state - of varying degrees of excellence, we would say. We went to Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina. There's a couple of others in Florida, all about three or more hours away. We stayed in this, we've been to Minnesota. What other states? Anyway, up the east coast, for the most part.
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: South Carolina and North Carolina, New York.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We took one big trip and did a bunch of them all in one day. Like I said, they're all very different in terms of some of them are their own rescues. They're not partnered with the rescue agencies, they're handling all those aspects. Some of them don't do adoptions on-site at all. Some of them don't have a cafe at all. I would say, we're the cat's meow when you compare us to other cat cafes.
Andrew, StickerGiant: That's fantastic. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Thanks for your passion and your creativity. That's great.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: When are you coming down?
Andrew, StickerGiant: As soon as humanly paw-ssible.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: See what you did there.
Andrew, StickerGiant: Do this all day. Tip your feet lines. Hey, so you guys seriously, best of luck. I do love also that piece, Andrew, when you said, "I do teach at the college level, higher ed." It's just cool to see you like, say, I should do this and go try this and then you follow through on it. Then you're able to still, like, you all are hiring people there and then they're featuring you. Like really closing it off and being an engaged student and trying to learn and then obviously, put something to life and create is pretty, I think admirable as well.]
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Especially as a non-traditional student too, going back in your 30s is even harder these days, and so that was a huge accomplishment.
Andrew, StickerGiant: It's hard to juggle. Like that, I appreciate that commitment. Now, you guys are just having some fun. I can just see from your videos and your branding and it's pretty rad. Everybody out there in pod land, cattyshackcafe.com, okay? Fort Myers, Florida, if you all find yourselves down there and otherwise, find them all over cat talk and you can find them at their handles, which are Cattyshackcafe, pretty much all the platforms. Andrew and Amber, thanks for your time. Have a great Halloween. Say hi, to all those cats. Are they dressing up for anything?
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: We have a few surprises.
Andrew, StickerGiant: You got some costumes for the cats? That's awesome. Well, we say on the show every time, friends, we say, every sticker has a story. Today's sticker, there is a cat in a hammock under a palm tree, and it represents this cat cafe in Fort Myers, Florida. We will see you all next time and we'll be keeping tabs as you all grow. Best of luck.
Amber, Cattyshack Cafe: Great. Thank you so much.
Andrew, Cattyshack Cafe: Andrew, thank you.