By Grace Huseth
Haydn Hilton loves cats. As a child, she and her family rescued former barn cats. As a teenager, she hid a cat in her bedroom for three months. As a Georgia State University student, she studied the phenomenon of YouTube cat videos. Now she is set to open the first cat café in Atlanta on Monday, March 27.
Java Cats Café at 415 Memorial Drive in Grant Park will be a “two-fur-one” – a unique coffeehouse and adoption service. Cats available for adoption will roam freely around the café to create both a cute and calming space. The cat café craze began more than a decade ago in Tokyo and has since spread to European and American cities.
Feline fan Hilton started learning about cat cafés when studying the phenomenon of cat videos in social media and began considering the possibility of opening one here. She and her husband, Josh, started researching laws, regulations and went to visit a cat café in Seattle to get their paws wet, so to speak. She’s using social media, including holding an online contest to name the café, to help promote the business.
“Social media has been a huge support for me and for bringing people together,” Hilton said. “I want to make genuine connections so I have kept my all my social media outlets raw and real. I am documenting the struggles, not just the highlights, because it is a real process.”
Since Java Cats is the first cat café in Atlanta, Hilton had to work closely with the city to set standards for serving food while housing animals. Java Cats signed the lease for their coffeehouse in September, but it took three months for all the details to be groomed out. Persistence paid off and the coffeehouse has permits through the Department of Agriculture.
Java Cats will have a full service coffee bar, but can only serve pre-packaged food on site. Hilton used her connections from her photography days to partner with The Gathering, a nonprofit of the Atlanta Mission that equips individuals with culinary skills, to supply box lunches and prepackaged snacks.
The café has partnered with PAWS Animal Rescue Shelter, Georgia’s oldest no-kill shelter for cats and dogs, and have screened cats to ensure they have the personality to thrive in such an environment. A two-door entry will lead to a designated cat territory filled with 13 roaming cats and plenty of human and feline perches.
Fundamentally Feline, a cat behavior consultant, has custom made cat towers and cat walks for animals to feel comfortable in their environment. “If the cats don’t want to touch the floors they won’t have to,” Hilton said.
Artwork includes a large mural of the three original Java Cats – Cream, Theo and Boots – by Atlanta street artist 70DOT.
Hilton learned much of her management skills as a former captain at St. Cecilia, one of Chef Ford Fry’s restaurants. Some of the chefs from Fry’s restaurants hosted a fundraiser by cooking a huge feast and donating the funds to the Hilton’s Kickstarter. Hilton was also supported by Decatur’s Ebrik Coffeehouse. where she picked up her barista skills.
“The biggest surprise was learning about myself and the entrepreneurship mind. I realized I have a different perspective and drive since I don’t have a business background,” she said.
Hilton said she was excited to learn that a second cat café is coming soon ot Intown. April Hills is currently renovating a space in the Old Fourth Ward to open Happy Tabby Cat Café in the near future.
“Atlanta is definitely big enough for two, if not more cat cafés,” Hilton said. “Cat café are such a cool way to get cats adopted and it’s all about saving as many cats as possible.”
For more about the cafés, visit facebook.com/javacatscafe.