LAKEVIEW — Longtime couple Chris Gutierrez and Shelly Casey have three passions in life — pizza, travel and cats.
A writer and hairstylist by trade, respectively, each year the pair embarks on a multicontinent journey.
They've been doing extensive research on cats.
"Because we are such weird, crazy cat people, I was always like, 'Oh we're going to Amsterdam, [let's Google] cat things in Amsterdam,' literally," Casey said.
With a laugh, Gutierrez quipped: "We went to Amsterdam, to Tijuana, like where people go for hookers and cocaine — and we were like, 'Um, can we go to your cat cafe twice?"
Now, the couple are set to open a place of their very own: the CatCade, a nonprofit cat shelter in Lakeview wiith free arcade games, big-screen TVs playing movies and drinks.
The 1235 W. Belmont Ave. location is a first-of-its kind for Chicago, utilizing the city's new Animal Cafe permit to offer prepackaged cans of pop, bottled coffees and juice pouches like Capri Suns to visitors, who can then walk through a set of doors into a sunny storefront room teeming with four-legged balls of floof.
CatCade's public grand opening will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
It works like this: An initial $15 donation to the shelter earns customers and cat admirers a drink, a one-hour chill session in the lounge and "unlimited head-boops." If someone chooses to take a kitty home, the $15 is taken out of the standard $100 adoption fee.
Cats come spayed/neutered, microchipped and with updated shots.
All of the proceeds go back into the operation of the shelter, such as paying for food, medical care and facilitating more rescues. Since it's a small, independent nonprofit shelter, the entrance donations are crucial because they essentially fund operations, they said.
Inside the lounge, three working arcade machines contain a combined 220 preloaded games, and flat-screen TVs provide a steady stream of 1980s action, comedy and rom-com classics. Other arcade machines have been repurposed into caves for sleeping cats.
Guests can relax in chairs and sit around a Nintendo controller-themed custom table, or try one of two corner floor lounge areas, which contain big pillows emblazoned with the faces of felines.
The room's setup is meant to mimic the comforting feel of a living room, the pair said, which helps cats better acclimate to the shelter and to new homes, and can give potential adopters a more well-rounded feel for the cats' personalities.
Chris Gutierrez and Shelly Casey play with a cat who was rescued from the South Side. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
While some kittens will make their way to the CatCade, the shelter will focus more on cats at least 6 to 10 months old, it said.
Visitors should not bring their own cats, and parents are asked not to bring children under 7. The shelter also does not accept cat drop-offs.
So far, 13 cats call the shelter home, many of them by way of Felines & Canines animal care facility in Edgewater, which has been working with Gutierrez and Casey on how to properly run an animal organization.
Two of those cats are Devon and Paulina, named after the streets where they were left in a box and dumped on Felines & Canines' front stoop. Another set of sisters, Margo and Edith, hail from the South Side, where they were rescued from a hoarding situation.
While setting up over the last few weeks, the couple said they've been overwhelmed with onlookers and passersby who have pulled at the door handle or pressed their noses to the window to catch a glimpse of the arcade-themed shelter. One woman held a note up to the window asking for a job.
"We're so passionate about this, it's been really cool to see people out there equally as passionate," Gutierrez said. "At the end of the day, it's about cats. Yes, we have video games, yes it's a theme, yes it's funny, but at the end of the day our main goal is to re-home these cats."
Lifelong fans of cats, Gutierrez and Casey said the pair came up with the wild idea of a cat shelter arcade about two years ago, but only in the last year have been able to put everything together.
Now their dream of helping the beloved fluffy pets find permanent homes, while also creating a unique venture, is ready to come to fruition.
"We're just two cat nerds who had this passion and said, 'What if one day we could just save cats [and] that could just be our jobs? Our purpose?'" Gutierrez said. "We want to make our corner of the world a little less s----y."
Photos by DNAinfo/Linze Rice.