Coffee, Tea or Me-ow: Cat cafes combine rescues and relaxation | Crain's

Coffee, Tea or Me-ow: Cat cafes combine rescues and relaxation

Colony Cafe in Pittsburgh allows patrons to dine with adoptable cats. | Crain National photo by Kristy Locklin.

Since opening its doors last February, Colony Cafe has facilitated 82 cat adoptions and three marriage proposals.

“There were a lot of tears,” owner Sue Hendrickson says, recalling how one feline served as a ring bearer.  

Thankfully, those watery eyes had more to do with joy than allergies.

Located on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, Colony Cafe boasts a full-service bar and second-floor loft filled with a dozen or so adoptable cats. Visitors can order a drink or light bistro fare and, for an $8 fee, spend an hour communing with homeless tabbies.

Julie Day, a New Yorker in town for the holidays, sits on a plush bean bag chair and sips red wine. She strokes a Calico while her friends dangle toys in front of wide-eyed kittens.  

“It’s great. It’s a bucket-list thing for me. I like how the cats are adoptable and being socialized. I might bring my boyfriend home a surprise,” Day says with a smile.

Animal Friends, a no-kill shelter in Ohio Township, Penn., provides all of the cats. They are spayed or neutered, microchipped and given a behavioral assessment before taking up temporary residence at the swanky downtown site, which is a 500-square-foot, glass-encased, whiskered wonderland filled with scratching posts, couches and even a private litterbox room.

Adoption fees are $100 for kittens under 6 months and $75 for more mature cats. Those prices drop to $50 and $25, respectively, if the buyer is 60 or older. All fees are waived for veterans and active duty military personnel.

“That’s been the most rewarding thing for me: the adoptions,” Hendrickson says. “It’s making that little impact on someone’s life.”

Hendrickson and her husband Erik left their corporate jobs in New York City to open up Colony Cafe.

Lifelong animal advocates, the couple wanted to create a relaxing space with an altruistic purpose. When a pop-up cat cafe opened in their Brooklyn neighborhood several years ago, they were amazed by the response it generated; hundreds of people lined up around the block to wine and dine with felines.

Pittsburgh, Sue Hendrickson says, was a good fit for the business due to its affordable housing, walkable neighborhoods and active animal rescue community.

While there are only a few dozen cat cafes in the United States, they are a common sight overseas.

Amanda Newland, an Allison Park, Penn. native who now works as a teacher in Japan, is happy to see her hometown embracing the concept.

“I go to cat cafes all the time,” she says. “A lot of apartment buildings in Japan don’t allow cats or it’s very expensive to own one. Average people want to hang with cats, so it fits well with the Japanese lifestyle.”

Colony Cafe's clientele has been quite diverse, ranging from single ladies and people on first dates to groups of guys on their way to a ballgame and college kids looking for a quiet place with free Wi-Fi (for $15, visitors with a valid student ID can book a 3-hour block in the Cat Loft).

The animals available also are a mixed bag of age, size and temperament. There are rambunctious kittens, sedentary fat cats and bonded pairs. The Hendricksons have already adopted two of the at-risk beasts, including a one-eyed, black cat named Chisel.

Sue Hendrickson says she might adopt more furballs in the future, but, in the meantime, she is excited to partner with other local businesses in an effort to shine a light on the plight of homeless cats.

Colony Cafe has hosted pop-up boutiques featuring handmade, cat-themed products. It also sells local vino from Pittsburgh Winery and fresh bread from Allegro Hearth Bakery in Squirrel Hill, Penn. After the success of the Cuddle Cats, Drink Beer event at Row House Cinema in November, Hendrickson hopes to join forces with area breweries.

“We like to think cats are universal,” she says. “And it’s cheaper than a therapist.”



Colony Cafe is located at 1125 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15222. The downstairs cafe, serving coffee, wine and food is open Tuesday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. No reservations are necessary.

The Cat Loft is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a daily cat nap closure from 2 to 3 p.m. Reservations, which begin at the top of every hour, are recommended. Children must be at least 8 years old to enter the Cat Loft and all visitors under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. Visit for more information.

January 2, 2018 - 12:09pm