Java Cats owner overcomes challenges to open

Photo by Monica Jamison

The newest addition to Atlanta’s crowded coffee scene offers a unique pairing: while sipping cappuccinos, patrons can pet cats. On Monday, March 27, owner Hadyn Hilton opened Java Cats Café, located in Grant Park.

The first of its kind in Atlanta, the cat café has a fully functioning coffee shop separated by double doors from the cat lounge. Visitors can either watch the cats through windows — ideal for those with allergies or trying to get some work done — or enter the cat room if they have a reservation.

The reservation system is in place so that the cats do not become overwhelmed by a barrage of people. At a cost of $10, the reservation includes a tea or coffee and helps fund the care of the cats. The first week has gone smoothly, with the exception of some customers being unaware of the reservations.

If visitors fall in love with a cat, they can adopt that cat. To achieve their goal of providing cats with socialization and eventually permanent homes, Java Cats has collaborated with PAWS, Georgia’s oldest no kill animal shelter.

While many people go to PAWS to adopt dogs, their cats often do not receive as much attention. PAWS was the first shelter Hilton reached out to, and the partnership worked out perfectly. As of Wednesday, April 5, 11 adoptions have occurred through Java Cats.

Additionally, Java Cats offers food from the nonprofit Gathering Industries, a local organization that employs homeless people and teaches them culinary skills. Hilton was the Gathering’s photographer and videographer for a few years, and she “love[s] the idea of partnering to help homeless cats and homeless people in the same building.”

While the business has a philanthropic focus, the coffee program does not disappoint. Ebrik, the Turkish coffee shop based in downtown Atlanta and Decatur, trained Hilton for 7 months in managing and being a barista. They have curated Java Cats’ coffee offerings and have continued to offer guidance.

The usual espresso-based drinks are offered with a slight naming twist: cat-related puns that, depending on one’s sense of humor, are cringe worthy or cute. Almond and soy milk are offered, and the food produced off site by the Gathering includes gluten free and vegan options.

Hilton first came across the concept of cat cafes in a media class at Georgia State, where she was a film major. As she was studying the phenomenon of cat YouTube videos, she became interested in cat cafes in Taiwan and Japan and researched locations in the U.S. While she found many on the west coast, there were none in Atlanta and few in the Southeast. Along the path to bringing her dream to fruition, Hilton encountered various challenges.

After overcoming the initial hurdle of a lack of business experience, “Atlanta lost my plans four times, which delayed us by several months. Dealing with the city was very difficult and very unwelcoming … I learned very quickly that it’s not easy opening a small business,” she explained.

Furthermore, she overcame difficulties specific to being a young female entrepreneur. The 25 year old said that “being at my age and being a woman, people would always receive me differently, and I could tell. No one would take me seriously, especially with an idea like a cat café.”

When she called some locations she was interested in and requested a viewing, they asked for her financial references and records. However, when her husband called, the same locations would want to schedule a showing whenever he wanted.

Hilton explained that while she had supported women’s movements in the past, she had not directly felt the effects of sexism in her life. While the experience was disheartening, it helped her realize that this is a concrete problem.

The young cat café may soon have competition: Happy Tabby Cat Café plans to open in Old Fourth Ward in April. Hilton thinks that are both enough cats and enough people to support two cat cafes in Atlanta. She wants the most cats possible to find homes, so she wishes Happy Tabby owner April Hill all the best.

Hilton’s long term plans include being able to have the cat lounge free. If the café side does well enough, they could financially support having no admission charge for the cat café. According to Hilton, the current price of $10 is reasonable, as it is lower than most cat cafes across the country, and they currently need to charge in order to take care of the cats.

She wants Java Cats to “live beyond the hype and excitement.” Her goal is to “make an impact on the community … and to be a place where people can leave feeling good about where their money is going.”

The cafe is opens at 9 a.m. every day and closes at 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, they close at 9 p.m.