Kanchan Singh knows her latest venture is ripe for a “Portlandia” spoof. She is, after all, trying to open a cat cafe — a cafe in which people are expected to pay a cover fee to enter her establishment and play with cats. The shop, Crumbs & Whiskers, will partner with the Washington Humane Society and all of the cats showcased will be available for adoption. Oakland and New York recently got their first cats cafes, with reservations filling up weeks in advance.
Singh, 24, who is taking time off from her management consulting job, talked to us about her still-fledgling plans to open the cafe this summer, D.C. peak yuppiness, and how she is trying to convince her parents she’s not crazy.
Laugh now, but more than 3,000 people already have signed up for her Gentlemeow’s VIP program — and she hasn’t even launched a Kickstarter yet.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Where are you in the process? Have you signed a lease on a place?
We’ve basically signed on the place, we’re not advertising it yet because a legally bound document has not been signed yet.
Can you tell me the general neighborhood?
What about the quadrant?
I’m just going to say D.C. for now.
What has the reaction been?
The reaction of who? Because, trust me, depending on who you are asking for, the reaction is very different.
How about your parents? Last time we spoke, you said they were pretty lukewarm about the idea.
Oh, yeah, they still think I’m crazy because they know I am on [unpaid time off]. So it’s kind of hit them that this is real — they’re very uncomfortable right now with the choices I am making. Obviously they are my parents at the end of the day so they are not going to say you can’t do this.
What do you tell them to quell their — or anyone else’s — uncertainties?
To me personally, the inspiration for the cafe came when I was in a cat cafe all the way in Thailand. I talked to the owners when I was in there and no one in that cat cafe was Thai. They were all American or European. And they were telling me that the Americans and Europeans love this.
So that’s what I tell my parents: I know that there is a demand for this and I know that it’s going to work. They obviously won’t be convinced until it’s actually working. I mean, I have some numbers: I can see the traffic on my website, I can see how many people are signing up, I can see the excitement around it, so I share that with them. They don’t start being my cheerleaders, but they stop asking questions.
What about the general public?
The general public has been great. Anytime you come up with an idea that is pretty out there — which cat cafes in the U.S. are still seen as pretty “out there” as a concept — I think you have polarizing opinions. Anytime you have people super excited about something you have people looking at it saying “what the heck is this?” With a lot of positive comes a lot of negative, so it’s been both. I have chosen to focus on the positive because at the end of the day you can’t please everyone. Overall, the response has been a lot more positive than I was expecting.
Is this cat cafe a sign that D.C. has hit peak yuppie? And is that bad?
I don’t necessarily agree with that and the reason I don’t agree with that is because I think a concept like the cat cafe is really the future of, I think, charity. In a lot of industries you are going to see this — where businesses and charities come together [to do something] that non-profits can’t create on their own … Let’s take the Oakland’s Cat Town cafe, for example: Since they opened [late last year] they have adopted [dozens of cats.] And the impact they have had on the community and the lives of those cats is huge. My issue with this whole yuppie thing — it lays the impression that we have all this extra money and spend on it on whatever, but this really is a very socially conscious business … Having additional income that you not only use to have a fun, but also to support a good cause … I really don’t see what’s wrong with that.
If “Portlandia” were filming an episode in Crumbs & Whiskers, what would the plot line be?
That is a crazy question. I don’t even know how to answer it … It depends on whether they choose to be kind to me or not — and they probably wouldn’t choose to be kind.
Something that I get a lot is, “Are there going to be a lot of women in the cat cafe talking about their feelings?” I think something along those lines of crazy cat ladies talking about their feelings. When I tell complete strangers on the street, unfortunately, that’s what I get a lot of.
What will the price model be?
I am working on those details right now with the Department of Health. They have been going back and forth … they haven’t encountered this exact concept before. (The Washington Post reported on how this cafe could pass a D.C. health inspection.)
What’s your Plan A for the price model?
Plan A is the exact route that we’ve been talking about and that’s just a cover fee. You just pay a cover fee and you get complimentary food and coffee.
Have you figured out the maximum amount people would be willing to pay for entry into the cafe?
I have been looking all over the board. The cafe in Oakland charges $10 per hour plus their pastries and coffee. People say you go in there and spend $13 or $14. And then there’s Meow Parlour in New York City, which charges $8 per hour. (It opened in December) What they do is charge $4 for a half an hour and $8 an hour, and again, on top of that you pay for pastries or food.
People will have to sign a waiver before they enter Crumbs & Whiskers. What are they signing away?
Obviously the cats we select will go through a selection process. They have to be good with other cats, they have to be good with people and they have to be cats that don’t attack people. But in the scenario that something happens you are saying you won’t be suing the cafe. Because, at the end of the day, we cannot control our cats. So when you come in you have to know that you could get a tiny scratch and that’s not something you would be suing us for. It’s something very standard across all cat cafes.
When is the Kickstarter launching?
The Kickstarter is launching in a few weeks.
How much do you plan to raise?
I am going to have the target amount be $15,000 … I can’t say I’ll guarantee I’ll get that, but I don’t think I’m being ridiculous with that.
And you are putting some money down?
Oh, yes, I’m pretty much going all in … I’m putting in all my savings and everything I have.
What are the design plans for Crumbs & Whiskers?
I have a lot of visions for the interior design of the place. The Kickstarter is going to determine how crazy I can get with the space, but, at the same time, the place is going to be pretty neat. It’s not just going to be a bland space with a bunch of couches and chairs.
If I end up getting a property with different floors, the different floors will have different themes. So let’s say I have two floors, they will have separate themes; one will be more playful for people who want an environment where they play with cats, and one will be more relaxing where people can lounge and you’re not necessarily making cats chase lasers with pointers.