Spreading the Mews

Spreading the MewsSpreading the MewsSpreading the MewsSpreading the Mews

N ew Haven, meet Mew Haven. 

The state’s first cat cafe becomes official this Saturday, September 8, following a two-week “sneak peek,” when eager customers got their first chance to pet and play with the cafe’s residents: seven rambunctious kittens and a patient adult cat named Apricot.

“Cats. Coffee. Community.” is the business’s tagline. The combination may seem unlikely, but since their inception 20 years ago, cat cafes have leapt in popularity. The first opened in Taiwan in 1998, and the concept quickly spread to Japan, where people tend to have very small apartments with no room for pets, says Mew Haven owner Angela Pullo. America’s first cat cafe opened in Oakland, California, in 2014, and today there are reportedly 74 in the nation.

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Mew Haven’s bare floors are scattered with toys and its walls are patterned with a series of kitty steps, walkways and sleeping nooks. Sometimes feline residents nap in one of the fuzzy beds or snuggle in the lap of a lucky customer. The afternoon I visited, brothers Max and Eli Jackson played laser tag with their tiny new friends, who pounced and pawed at the light, sure they could catch it. All of the cafe’s kitties are up for adoption, but Max and Eli’s mom, Mandi, assured me none of them would be going home with the family, who already have two cats.

Adoptions take place via a partnership with The Animal Haven shelter in North Haven. Mew Haven doesn’t arrange adoptions, but it does get the ball rolling with initial applications, which it forwards to Animal Haven. The shelter determines which animals will take up residence. “They are familiar with all the personalities, so they’ll know best who will get along with other cats and people,” Pullo explains. If there’s ever a problem or an animal gets sick, they’ll be transferred back to the nonprofit, no-kill shelter.

So far, the benefits of the arrangement are obvious. During a fall pop-up last year, which gave Pullo and her husband, Michael, a chance to give the business a test run, all five of the resident cats found new homes, as 700 people passed through. Another cat found his “forever home” during the pre-opening sneak peek. Most of Mew Haven’s residents are kittens now, but Angela anticipates having more adult cats in the future. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I want kittens,’ but personalities in a kitten [change] as they get older,” she says. “Adult cats are calmer, [and] you don’t have to deal with the energy of the kittens.”

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Opening a cat cafe may not seem like an obvious business choice, especially for someone like Angela, who’s allergic to cats. But the Pullos put several years of research into Mew Haven before taking the leap. It began with the loss of Michael’s cat of 15 years, Mr. Kitty. “They were the best of friends,” Angela says. After Mr. Kitty died, Michael “started to think [about] what he really wanted to do with his life. He wanted to think about… some good to do in the world.” The couple loved both cats and coffee, and they had enjoyed their visits to cat cafes in New York and Hong Kong. They also liked the idea of building a community. Angela pauses to point out what has happened as another group of guests has arrived. “People don’t know each other, but they’re coming together, and they’re all talking about this great cat stuff,” she says. “We’re forming a community of cat lovers.”

Angela isn’t the only one who loves spending her days surrounded by cats, her allergy notwithstanding. Mew Haven attendant Rebecca Bergman, who keeps the lounge clean and monitors cats and guests to help keep both safe, calls it “the best job ever.” Angela hopes people will feel free to come in not just to play with the cats, but to hang out, study, work or read a book. Mew Haven will be hosting a bachelorette party soon, and birthday parties are in the works. So are special events, which may include offerings like yoga with cats, knitting with kitties and Books with Buddies, a program already in progress at The Animal Haven, where children read to the animals—a way of helping early readers feel more comfortable. Angela is open to hearing how people would like to spend their time at Mew Haven.

As for the cafe part, Mew Haven brews its own coffee, with beans sourced from Brooklyn-based Kitten Coffee, which specializes in “small batch premium coffee.” Treats come from local bakeries Moon Rocks Gourmet Cookies, Sweet Treats by Sonia, Kathy’s Famous Cookies and Jackie O Cupcakes. The cafe also sells T-shirts, socks, keychains, mugs, greeting cards, sunglasses and other cat-themed merchandise. Angela herself is sporting a pair of black cat ears.

Visitors, who pay $12 an hour (with discounts for students, seniors, teachers and kids 12 and under), check in at the cafe register, then walk around to the lounge door, a separate space due to health department regulations, though food can be carried in. A vestibule helps keep curious kitties from running out. The lounge—decorated in cheerful orange as a tribute to Mr. Kitty, whose coat was orange—has two sections: a study area with tables in back and a play area up front, where equally curious humans stop to peer through the sidewalk window. Space is limited to 15 people at a time, so online reservations are recommended.

I spent most of my cafe time attempting to photograph the kittens, who were moving much faster than most subjects. They ran and skidded and rolled. They paused and cocked their heads. They climbed even when their little legs weren’t quite strong enough to get them where they wanted to go. With their tiny bodies and their gigantic ears and eyes, they’re nearly irresistible.

They’re also full of mischief, just one more trait that delights visitors. Every morning, Angela says, she comes in to find topsy-turvy evidence of mayhem the night before. “There are toys everywhere, the pillows are on the floor. They step in the water bowls—there’s water everywhere. It’s like, seriously, guys,” she says. “What are you doing? What kind of party are you holding?”

True to their independent reputations, the cats aren’t telling.

Mew Haven Cat Cafe
904 Whalley Ave (map)
Tues-Thurs 10am-7pm, Fri 10am-9pm, Sat 10am-3pm & 4-9pm, Sun 10am-3pm & 4-7pm
(475) 441-7877 | info@mewhavencatcafe.com
www.mewhavencatcafe.com

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter at KathyLeonardCzepiel.com. Her favorite New Haven scene is a packed summer concert on the Green with dinner from the food trucks, and she loves that there’s always something new to discover here.

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