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A man plays with cats at Nekorobi cat café on Jan. 20, 2009 in Tokyo, Japan. The regular customers are mainly in their 20s to 30s and seeking healing by cats, or people who cannot afford to have pets full-time. Some visitors come to the cat café three times a week.
You might have seen them on Animal Planet: Coffee shops where customers can interact with feline friends, especially popular in Asia.
They’re called cat cafés, and San Diego entrepreneur Tony Wang hopes to open the first one in the U.S.
Although Wang is what you’d call a “cat person” – he’s got three cats of his own – he said that’s not the reason he’s pursuing this business venture.
“San Diego doesn’t need just another coffee shop,” he said.
Wang said cat cafés originated in Taiwan, then spread like wildfire in Japan (there are currently dozens in Tokyo alone). He also read about one in Paris with a month-long waiting list.
“Let’s see if we can do something similar here,” he said.
Here’s how the Cat Café would work: Customers can order drinks and pastries in the front of the shop. Then, they’ll walk through several doors, separating the food service area from the cat area. There, they could enjoy their coffee in the company of cats.
NBC 7 reached out to the county health department about what permits Wang would need to open a cat café, but officials said they could not comment because they haven’t received the plans yet.
According to California Retail Food Code, live animals may be allowed “if kept at least 20 feet (6 meters) away from any mobile food facility, temporary food facility…” Wang hopes his business would be classified in this category.
The entrepreneur is eyeing a space in San Diego’s Marina District to open his café. He’s targeting two types of clients: Tourists and people who live and work nearby, especially those who love pets but can't own them.
“The people who work in the area may have stressful jobs,” he said. “There are definitely benefits to the act of petting an animal."
The business will be part café, part feline foster home. Wang is in early talks with the San Diego Humane Society to provide the cats, which would also be up for adoption. He expects to have about six cats in the café at a time.
With the plans in place, the San Diego Cat Café is in a race to become the first cat café in the U.S. There are efforts underway to open cat cafés in four U.S. cities: Catfé in Los Angeles, KitTea in San Francisco, Cat Town Café in Oakland and Purrington’s Cat Lounge in Portland.
“That depends who gets it done first,” Wang said.
Like the other prospective cat cafés, Wang is using crowdsourcing to help fund the project.
Last weekend, Purina One and the North Shore Animal League opened a four-day pop-up cat café in New York City. A line of cat lovers wound around the block, waiting hours to pet cats and sip cat'achinos.
If all goes according to plan, Wang plans to open the San Diego Cat Café July 1, just in time for the influx of visitors from Comic-Con.