Operator profile - Café: Cool for cats

Operator profile - Café: Cool for cats

Gemma Bradish reports on Scotland’s first cat café, where the feline residents well and truly rule the roost…

A trip to Japan in the summer of 2014 left Laura O’Neill with a rather unexpected ambition: to open a cat café in her home country of Scotland. Inspired by the café that she visited while on her travels, Laura returned to Edinburgh and set about creating her vision with fiancé Jon, opening Maison de Moggy just a few months later in January 2015.

As well as having to consider all of the usual practicalities that come with opening a café, Laura and Jon had to think about how to source the cats, how to integrate them and how to ensure that they would live comfortably in such a public environment. Initially, the couple hoped to work with a local animal shelter and rescue some of the cats there. “However, when liaising with the shelter, we quickly agreed that it was not a good idea due to not knowing the cats’ backgrounds,” Laura explains. “We then decided to get cats of varying breeds to introduce our visitors to their amazing different traits and personalities. They’re from all over the UK, from a rescue situation in Coventry to a breeder in West Lothian.”

At present, Maison de Moggy is home to 12 resident cats, all of whom have been raised by Laura and Jon since they were kittens. They include Elodie, a sphynx, Marcel, a Bengal Siamese and Fabian, a Norwegian forest cat. The café is a custom-built playground for cats, featuring a variety of toys, climbing stations and nooks and crannies that are ideal for snoozing and exploring. In addition, the cats also have a separate bedroom where they cannot be disturbed by visitors.

Before visiting Maison de Moggy, potential visitors (who must be aged 10 and above) can discover everything that they need to know on the comprehensive website. As well as an FAQ section and a ‘meet the cats’ page, visitors can find a list of house rules that have been put in place to protect the welfare of the furry residents. These include a ban on picking up, restraining them and disturbing them while they are sleeping. To manage expectations, the website also makes it clear that cats can sleep for up to 16 hours a day and that it’s impossible to predict when the residents will be most lively.

While guests are encouraged to book their visit online, a table is not reserved for them because the idea is that they wander around the venue and interact with the different cats. To help people get the most out of their visit, dedicated ‘cat nannies’ are on hand to share their knowledge of each animal and provide advice on how best to interact with them. They will also speak to anyone that is found to be flouting the rules to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Since opening Maison de Moggy, Laura and Jon have built up a strong following through word of mouth, social media and press coverage, as well as people simply stumbling across the café by accident. “Our customer base varies hugely,” reveals Laura, a qualified employment lawyer who continues to work as a solicitor for a trade union. “We serve people who cannot have cats of their own for whatever reason, couples on dates, and people with autism who use the café as a way to relax and communicate via the cats.”

A quick look on TripAdvisor makes clear that customers are highly satisfied by a visit to Maison de Moggy, which has an overall rating of 4.5/5 stars. For example, one gentleman recently wrote: “Great little café. Brilliantly ran by the staff. The cats’ happiness and welfare are clearly the number one priority, which is nice to see.” The reviews are equally positive on Facebook, with one person commenting: “Amazing place! The staff are brilliant and the cats are amazing. Would highly recommend!” Laura keeps a close eye on reviews and admits that receiving positive feedback is “hugely rewarding”. “It’s particularly great when someone is sceptical but comes in with an open mind and loves their experience,” she says.

It is interesting to note that the menu at Maison de Moggy lacks any savoury food options. Instead, visitors are offered an ever-changing selection of cake slices, cupcakes and traybakes, all of which are made at local bakeries in Edinburgh. To cater for those with dietary requirements, the café has gluten-free and vegan options available, and has done ever since it opened. The drinks offer includes coffees, hot chocolate and a rather extensive list of loose leaf teas, ranging from Brodie’s Famous Edinburgh Breakfast Tea to Japanese cherry and passionfruit and orange flavours. “We prefer to have a simple menu and do it really well,” explains Laura when asked why there are no savoury options available. “We offer fantastic locally made tea, coffee and cake; all from Edinburgh.”

Passionate about keeping her ‘babies’ happy, Laura will put any one of her cats into ‘retirement’ if she feels they are no longer enjoying life in the café. This recently happened to Pierre, a ragdoll cat, and Sebastian, a British short hair, both of whom were five years old. While Sebastian became stressed around mealtimes, Pierre is happiest around Jon and it was therefore decided that he too could retire. “Cats that retire come home to Jon and I,” explains Laura. “That’s where they started and that’s where they’ll come as soon as we think that they’re no longer living their best life in the café.”

As for the future, Laura admits that she has plenty of plans but wants to keep them quiet for the time being. It could be that she’s looking to update the menu, welcome new cats into the fold or even open up another venue; whatever she is thinking, it seems we have no other option but to watch this space.