Feline fanatics purr over L.A.'s first cat cafe

Catfe, a temporary pop-up restaurant in Chinatown, is part petting zoo, part coffee shop.

Shaggy-haired Joseph Lunsford, the costumed head butler at Southern California’s Mochi Cafe, trekked from San Diego to Los Angeles with a mission: Serve tofu balls and sandwiches at Los Angeles’ first cat cafe. And of course, pet some cats.  

To clarify, a cat cafe isn’t a place for cultured felines to trade in their kitty chow for cappuccinos or experiment with human food. It’s where feline fanatics sit in a room full of cats, sip coffee and eat snacks – a concept made popular in Asia.

“I love the idea of Catfe,” Lunsford said of the four-day pop-up shop. He doesn’t own a cat, but even if he did, his apartment complex isn’t pet-friendly. “For people like me that aren’t allowed to keep a pet at home … a cat cafe is the perfect solution. That, or move.”

Catfe is in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza, past wooden stalls selling Hello Kitty backpacks and bright hair accessories. Organizer Carlos Wong, 31, hopes to permanently house the four-day pop-up in Los Angeles through a $250,000 Kickstarter campaign.


Catfe patrons pay $30 to secure a 20-minute time slot inside the cafe to pet, play with (and since it’s Los Angeles, take selfies with) kitties to their hearts’ content. Patrons 18 or older can even adopt a cat on-site.

“We want to get as many cats into loving homes as we can,” Wong said.

The four-day installation opened Thursday, but organizers hope interest allows for something more permanent.

The Orange County native tallied over $3,000 in reservations for the short-lived attraction, which he plans to put toward a “forever home” for the cafe.


“I think it’s time for cats to step into the spotlight a little more and take over Los Angeles,” he said with a laugh.

The “no pets” rule is also what attracted cat fan Natasha Spickenreuther of Burbank, who was dressed in an outfit entirely adorned with tiny black and white kittens. She owns a Russian Blue, but said, “I can’t have cats right now because of my roommates.”

She, like Lunsford, said Catfe is an opportunity to deal with her “cat withdrawal,” and mused: “Why not L.A.? It has everything else.”

Catfe is partnered with Best Friends Animal Society, a no-kill shelter, and the Chinatown Business Improvement District, with sponsorships from Pioneer Pets and well-known Los Angeles pet boutique Pussy & Pooch.

And what’s a cat cafe without its very own theme song? Rayko, front woman and guitarist of Los Angeles rock band Lolita Dark, wrote a commercial jingle for the venture.

“I’m a big cat person,” said Rayko, originally from Sharia, Japan. Unfortunately, she added, she’s “severely” allergic.

That sort of dedication to all things cats is what Catfe co-founder Erika Olsen hopes will help spread the word about the cafe’s mission. Gimmicks aside, Olsen said, Catfe aims to serve as a “learning center” for cat care.

“It’s a space for potential pet owners to essentially get training before a full dive-in,” she said.


Catfe served food from nearby Starry Kitchen, though drinks were not technically offered at the temporary pop-up. Wong, though, already has a beverage menu in mind for the permanent endeavor, which has approval from public health officials (cats won’t be near the food prep area.).

Coffee, tea, boba and smoothies will be available, along with a special “cat nip tea,” which he joked will make people go “cat crazy.”

But, he said, “it’s not just about cats and coffee. It’s about spreading animal awareness all around.”

Once Catfe is permanent, Olsen also hopes the organization can work with Los Angeles’ assisted living facilities to host pro-bono therapy nights for the elderly.

Keep up with me on Twitter @sarahHwaris

Get our Essential California newsletter