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‘Cat Cafe’ Eyes Vacant O Street Storefront

By Katie PearceCurrent Staff Writer

Washington’s first “cat cafe” could be finding a home in Georgetown.

The young entrepreneur behind Crumbs & Whiskers — a hybrid cat adoption center and pastry shop — is currently eying the property at 3211 O St. as she wades through the city’s process for opening the first-of-its-kind business.

In an interview, Kanchan Singh emphasized that a lease is not yet signed for the Georgetown site, though she said it’s her “top choice.” She hopes to open her business sometime this summer.

Singh also used the O Street address for her application with the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment, for which a hearing is scheduled on March 24. She said the application is meant “to get the ball rolling” even before a lease is secured.

Crumbs & Whiskers needs a special exception from the city as it will technically operate as an animal boarding facility. Additionally, Singh is working with the D.C. Department of Health to find a way to offer food to visitors while they spend time playing with the cats.

The concept is a partnership with the Washington Humane Society, giving a new spin on the cat adoption process. Singh envisions boarding between 10 and 20 cats at a time at Crumbs & Whiskers and bringing them out for (uncaged) play with visitors during the day. The visitors, in turn, would enjoy coffee, tea and desserts, provided and prepared by off-site partners. In addition to cat toys, the cafe would offer board games and books for guests, and it would showcase local art.

“The concept is pretty simple,” according to the cafe’s website, “Cats in cages are sad, so we get them out of there. Anyone without a cat is sad (or should be), so we hook them up.”

The “cat cafe” model has become popular in the U.S. over the past six months or so, starting with the Cat Town Cafe & Adoption Center in Oakland, Calif., and several “pop-up” venues in other spots. The idea is well established in Japan, though there it’s focused more on satisfying a fix for animal lovers who live in buildings with pet restrictions.

Singh, who is 24 and now lives in Gaithersburg, got her first taste of the phenomenon during a trip to Thailand, where she visited a popular cat cafe teeming with Americans and Europeans.

She’s already seeing a lot of interest in her concept in the D.C. area, with attention from The Washington Post and around 4,000 people signed up for her “Gentlemeow’s Club” of early supporters. She plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign on March 1 to raise funds.

The O Street property Singh is exploring would fit the bill nicely because of its basement, which could serve as the boarding area for the cats (and a “timeout” space for those that need a break from visitors). In addition, the building is one of “only a handful” Singh has seen that matches the onerous zoning requirements for an animal boarding facility.

The property, now vacant, most recently served as a variety shop, according to the zoning application.

With the Health Department, Singh said “we’re dancing around what the solution is” for offering drinks and pastries. Initially the agency proposed requiring separate areas — each with its own entrance — for pastries and cat playtime. But Singh said “pretty much everybody I talked to said, ‘No, that sounds awful,’” about the idea of buying food in one area, then exiting and re-entering the separate cat section.

More recently, she said, the hope is to offer complimentary pre-prepared food. Crumbs & Whiskers would charge visitors a cover fee based on the length of their visit — something around $8 to $10 per hour, if it follows the prices of similar U.S. cafes. Visitors could book reservations online.

Singh said the Washington Humane Society has been on board as her partner and adviser “since the very beginning.” Crumbs & Whiskers would in effect act as a foster home for the humane society, which would handle the official adoption process for the cats.

Scott Giacoppo of the Washington Humane Society said his organization fully supports the plans and has worked in depth with Singh on the details. The cat cafe concept is “working in Oakland and a couple of other places, but it’s starting to spread and we don’t want to miss the bus,” he said.

Of Singh, he said: “She’s smart, she’s on the ball, and we have all the confidence in the world” that the business can succeed.

Singh said Crumbs & Whiskers would provide more space for cats than the humane society can do on its own, as well as benefit the cats’ welfare through uncaged play. “Nobody wants cats to be in cages,” she said. “It gives these cats a better life.”

Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Jeffrey Jones, who represents the area that includes 3211 O St., said his commission will likely weigh in on the cafe’s zoning application at its March 2 meeting.

“Assuming the zoning criteria is met, as well as the health, welfare and safety issues are confirmed satisfactory, I believe the ANC would gladly welcome a cat cafe,” Jones wrote in an email.

This article appears in the Feb. 18 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.