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Chicago's 1st 'Cat Cafe' Opens Soon, But Is Less Grand Than First Planned

By Linze Rice | July 11, 2017 6:57pm | Updated on July 14, 2017 10:53am

WEST RIDGE — Tree House Humane Society's new multi-million adoption center is set to debut at the end of this month, complete with what's been long-touted at Chicago's first "cat cat'fe."

However, the scaled-back café may not be exactly what eager cat-lovers had envisioned.

Rather than featuring the shelter's original vision of a coffee counter and barista, the café will instead consist of a small space off the front lobby with several self-serve coffee and tea machines, said Debbie Hinde, director of development at the shelter.

There will be seating for about 10 people, Hinde told DNAinfo Tuesday. Customers pay for the coffee at the shelter's lobby reception desk. 

Hinde likened the equipment set-up similar to what may be offered in a "Downtown office break room," but asserted the area was more than just a waiting room.

"I actually think it's not a waiting area," Hinde said. "I think people will come solely to have a cup of coffee or a cup of tea, as well as people who will come to do that because they are also are intending to see the cats."

A small visiting room containing adoptable cats will be adjacent to where customers can purchase drinks, however you must first schedule an appointment to enter the room and sip  coffee with the cats.

"Part of that in a cat café environment is you have to make sure that you don't overwhelm the cats, so there has to be a structure and there has to be time frames," she said.

Preliminary renderings had shown cats mingling with patrons in a room with a sofa.

Tree House partnered with Royal Cup, a national distributor, for the drink products, which will include a list of cat-themed beverages available on-demand through the machines. 

Two years ago, the shelter announced it was partnering with Jordan Karcher, founder of Grounds and Hounds — a small-batch coffee brewing company that splits its profits with animal shelters.

Karcher reached out to the Tree House after DNAinfo first reported on Tree House's new West Ridge facility. 

However, Hinde said that collaboration was no longer active.

Hinde said the changes came down to "using our resources wisely and using the space wisely."

"This is a café," Hinde said. "It is a little different from what they may be envisioning, but they'll still be able to get a great diversity of products."

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A 2015 rendering of what the space was envisioned to look like. [Tree House Humane Society]The unfinished space in early 2017, looking toward what will be a visiting area from where the coffee machines will be. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]About 10 people will be able to be comfortably seated in the dining space. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

Hinde said the rooms were one of several places in the facility that were available for naming rights with a significant donation, which was offered by a couple.

The goal is for the coffee sales to not only cover the costs of what it takes to run the counter, but also generate extra income for the shelter. 

The proposed "cat cafe" of "cat'fe" has received lots of attention since it was announced — even inspiring legislation from Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) that paved the way for not only Tree House, but other shelters in the city to open their own in-shelter cafés that can serve drinks and also adhere to other rules.

For those who may have donated to the shelter's multi-year fundraising campaign with the hope of a coffee house-style space shared between humans and felines, Hinde said the room was still "part and parcel" to the Tree House's new facility and mission of helping animals.

"It's a little bit of a different model, but I think ... when you plan a building you learn as you go along," she said.

The new facility will have a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. July 28 at its 7225 N. Western Ave. building, with a grand opening the following day from 1-4 p.m.

Hinde said she expects the initial response to the shelter and drink space will be "chaotic" but hopes it will ultimately be a boon for the community and shelter. 

"In the end this is about ... engaging the community and running the café and making money from the café, and having the added on benefit of visiting with cats," she said. "And it's an opportunity to educate people about our cats and the issues that cats face."