Situated in Prague’s Žižkov district, the Kočičí Kavárna Freya (or Kočkafé) is a cat café, which opened back in 2014, and was the first of its kind in Prague. The phenomenon of the cat café harks back to the late 1990s in Taiwan and Japan, but has now come to the Czech Republic as well. There are seven cats on-hand for customers to interact with here, predominantly from shelters, and this cat café has already attracted significant media attention. I’m going to go and visit inside and meet both the staff and the cats.
I’ve stepped inside to the cat café. It is comprised of a large single room for customers filled with tables and chairs with a bar area to the left. I am joined by the owner and proprietor of the café, Pavla Bacovská – thank you very much for having me.
“No problem. Thank you for coming.”
There are seven cats, and I am immediately surrounded by three of them. One of them has just jumped up on to the table at which we are sitting, so I am giving it a stroke.
“That is Terinka, the mother cat.”
The cats predominantly come from shelters, right?
“Yes. Most of them. We have two cats that were sort of found as stray kittens. One of them is Bořek, a tabby cat who is still a bit shy. He actually came from this street, Bořivojova, hence his name, as a little kitten. He found us, and he asked for asylum, which was very nice. And then there is a black cat called Minnie, who is our youngest cat. She came from some kind of building site where she was hiding in a hole and the builders brought her to us. So we took her in. But the rest of our cats are from shelters.”
And presumably you have to make sure that they are the kind of cats that can be with strangers on a daily basis. Because many cats would likely not enjoy that.
“Of course. If we take a cat from a shelter, we are naturally interested in its nature and ask the shelter staff about the nature of the cats, and whether it is appropriate for a particular cat to be here. But it does happen sometimes that you end up just being wrong about a choice. The seven cats that are here are the result of the almost three years of the café existing. There were a few cases when we had cats here that weren’t happy – meaning we took them in and thought that we were doing a good thing for them, but then we figured out that either they just didn’t like the rest of the cats. It is the same as putting seven people in a room and expecting them all to get along, which just doesn’t work sometimes. Or they didn’t like the café itself, the space, the strangers coming, as not every cat is able to do that. In such cases we found them new homes, mostly from among our customers. Someone would take them home.”
Do you work with shelters? Say a customer comes in and says: I love this cat and I want to take him home...
“No. I know that there are cat cafés that operate with this sort of concept. It can work on one hand, and probably does a lot of good, and gets a lot of cats adopted. But I personally don’t think it is a good idea for a cat café because if you take cats in and out all the time, then they don’t have time to get used to the space and the way it works. And I think that it would actually end up that most of the cats would be hiding under the tables and not wanting to come out, because they wouldn’t feel comfortable. So the result here – the fact that (Terinka) is trying to cuddle with you and is very friendly is because she has been living here so long, feels secure here, and this is her home. That’s the reason why the cats here are so nice and friendly to strangers, because they know that they are safe here and no-one is going to hurt them. They are used to strangers coming and touching them, which wouldn’t happen in just a week or two.”
[laughs] “No, I don’t take them home every day.”
And I can see around the room that you have plenty of high shelves, cat beds, cat towers and so on, so it is an interesting, multi-level environment for the cats.
“Of course, because they like to climb and jump and cats are very active, especially during the night. Even though our cats, I think, are very much in rhythm with the café, so they are active during the day when people are here. They are curious and want to interact with the customers. And whenever there are no people here they just lay down and go to sleep. So they are not typical cats in that sense, who are active at night and sleep during the day.
“We want them to have a good life here, and we want this to be a nice home for them. That is the primary thing. Of course we are here for the customers. And, yes, this is a business. But then my first priority is the cats, and for them to be happy and feel comfortable here.”
You’ve been operating since 2014. So what was the original idea? What inspired you to set up a cat café in Prague?
“I can’t take credit for the idea and for setting it up. I bought this café last summer from the previous owners. And those women were the ones that made this whole project happen. The whole idea of the cat café comes from Japan, where they are very popular. The women learned about this and thought it was a good idea. It was a mum and two sisters. They all liked cats, wanted to help cats, and give people a way to interact with them. But then the mum and one of the sisters moved away from Prague, and the whole café was on the shoulders of one of the girls, and she wasn’t well health-wise, so she couldn’t run it anymore. And that is when I came in and took over.”
“At the beginning, the former owners had to get customers used to the idea. And then there were also all the procedures to do with health and safety, veterinary inspections, getting all the necessary approvals and so on. And then they started adopting cats, with every new cat bringing more life to this place. It was very popular at the very beginning because this was the first cat café in Prague. It got a lot of media attention. TV, radio, magazines all came to cover this place.”
And you still get media attention!
Asides from Radio Prague, you mentioned when I came in that you’d just had a TV crew here the other day.
“Yes, that’s right...When I took over I tried to refresh the place with new furniture and decor, and do a few things in a different way. To get more customers and get some of the ones who had left to come back and bring more people. I would say that during the year that I have owned this place we’ve managed to really do a refresh and restart.”
Presumably, when cat cafés first arrived in the Czech Republic there must have been a lot of regulatory hurdles to overcome – because I understand that the cats are not allowed to go into the kitchen, right?
“Yes. It would be a problem for a cat to be walking around the kitchen area where we prepare food, so we can’t allow that.”
So that is completely sealed off...
“Yes, there is a closed door to the kitchen. But you can’t really convince cats to not go where they want to go, so we also have a net over the bar area. The idea is that this serves to fulfil veterinary and other regulations. But you do sometimes get a cat behind the bar when I am making coffees or something. As you can see, there are lots of sanitizers everywhere, so we really do pay attention to the hygiene issue. The thing is that there is no actual food prepared here. That makes it easier, as we just sell cakes that are delivered to us from the bakery each morning. The only thing we really have to watch is the milk and the cream.
“From the moment that a customer gets a cake or a coffee or anything else on the table it is their responsibility, and that is where it ends for me in terms of the regulations. Of course, I will keep an eye on all the tables and maybe let the people know that they should be careful. We also have all of this incorporated in our cat café rulebook. And in that, one of the rules is to carefully watch your plates and cups. Thankfully, most people that come here know cats and are experienced in dealing with them.”
One would think that the customers coming here already like cats, and like the idea of interacting with cats over a coffee.
“Exactly. So they mostly don’t mind a cat jumping up on the table, or the occasional hair falling in their coffee. Of course we do try to keep the place as clean as possible, but with seven cats here, there is occasional fluff!” [laughs]
Žižkov is a pretty thriving area of Prague, and there are many other pubs and cafés all around us. So the idea of having cats in a café, does that attract more customers than if you were just here as a regular café?
“I do think that having a regular café here in this location would probably not be a good idea at all. But even having a cat café here is quite difficult because we’re not in the city centre and have to work to attract our customers, let them know we are here, and try to spread the word. But we do have quite a lot of customers – we have regulars, who come back and bring their family and friends along. We also have a lot of people who come here for business meetings, because this is a very quiet, relaxing place. You don’t get people screaming here, and even when there are kids here, we try to maintain a quiet atmosphere. It’s a very calm environment, so you also get people coming here to have serious talks, solving issues and so on. We also get a lot of dates...”
Yes, the romantic atmosphere...
“Very much so, because if a guy wants to take a girl out this is a very nice place, because girls usually like cats.”
It’s good to be a cat lover!
“It always gives me a big smile and goose bumps to see lovebirds here. We also get a lot of travellers and foreigners in general, because we are very English-friendly here, and there are a lot of hotels, and bed & breakfasts and Airbnbs here in this street. So we have a lot of backpackers and travellers coming.”
Customer: “Are you busy?”
Pavla: “I’m just doing a radio interview. Please take a seat, I’ll get you a menu, and then I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Customer: “Thank you.”
So, yes, Czechs tend to be dog lovers. And now there are about four or five cat cafés in Prague, I believe. And one in Brno and Pardubice, I think. So is this a phenomenon that is spreading?
“I don’t know. Many cat cafés opened right after us. As soon as we opened, there was another one within a month, and then another two within two months. But since then there haven’t been any more. I do think that there are only so many such places that can exist in one particular town or city, so as to not compete with each other and have enough business. It’s a phenomenon that just happened. A few cat cafés popped up, but I think this is it. I don’t think we’ll see the situation in Prague where every other café in Prague is a cat café.”
Pavla Bacovská, thank you very much for showing me around. I can see that behind us are two customers...
“That need my attention!”
And that they are enjoying the cat café experience, because they are looking through a menu and have a cat jumping up on their table...
“That is Noxík. He is the boss here.”
A black lucky cat, sitting with the customers.
“He was the first cat to be adopted. He always comes and greets people as if to say hello and let it be known he is the owner here.” [laughs]
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