Saturday, September 23, 2023

D.C. woman plans to open cat cafe in Williamsburg

Baxter with her pet cat, Reina, in Colonial Williamsburg. Baxter said she’s had pets her entire life, including dogs, rabbits and gerbils, but, “I’ve always been drawn to cats more than other animals I’ve had.” (Courtesy Lauren Baxter)

A new café may be opening in Williamsburg this spring, and its owner hopes to provide her patrons with tasty snacks, refreshing drinks and some quality time with felines.

Meowington’s Café is the name of a prospective new business by Washington, D.C. resident Lauren Baxter.

Baxter said her idea is simple: to provide a place in the city where visitors can grab a bite to eat and spend quality time petting, watching and playing with shelter cats.

“I’d like to get them some attention,” Baxter said about the cats. “They don’t know why they’re there at the shelter or don’t have a home. I’d like to get them anywhere other than a cage. The people at Heritage are really good and treat their animals really well.”

Meowington’s will partner with Heritage Humane Society, which will provide cats from its shelter — and make them available for adoption. HHS Executive Director Kim Laska said she is very excited to partner with Baxter on Meowington’s Café.

Lauren Baxter's two pet cats, Reina (left) and Simon (right). (Courtesy Lauren Baxter)
Lauren Baxter’s two pet cats, Reina (left) and Simon (right). (Courtesy Lauren Baxter)

“She is an amazing person,” Laska said of Baxter. “She has so much enthusiasm and energy. If anyone is going to make something like this work, it’s her.”

Baxter and Laska said Heritage would handle the adoptions, but Meowington’s will carry adoption applications. Baxter said she hopes that the café will help both HHS find homes for their cats, and provide relaxation and relief for area residents.

“I’m hoping that it will be somewhat therapeutic for people that come in,” Baxter said. “I do think that for some people that do like cats this could be very helpful for them, to have an escape where they wouldn’t have to worry about what’s going on outside for as long as they stay. Then they can go back and live their life, but I do hope people would benefit from whatever time they could spend there.”

Baxter added, “It would help the cat, too.”

Baxter said that she hopes to open by the end of May, but has not settled on a location yet. She said she hopes to find a lot in downtown Williamsburg or in New Town. She also said that health regulations will require her to separate the cats from food service.

“I want a combination of a café-style place with smaller tables and larger tables, and also kind of have a living room-type feel with couches and maybe some hiding places for the cats,” said Baxter.  “We’ll put things along the wall that the cats can climb, and cat condos. I want them to be able to move around…I want it to feel like home but also a café, where [students] can study for a couple hours, and then get distracted by a cat. And have a home feel for the cats, too.”

Her business will offer monthly and yearly passes, Baxter said, in addition to the option to pay for certain amounts of time with the cats. She said she has not settled on pricing yet.

A survey for Meowington’s offers the public a chance to share the thoughts and hopes for the business. Baxter said she is hopeful that many people will weigh in to help her shape Meowington’s.

Simon and Reina taking catnaps. (Courtesy Lauren Baxter)
Simon and Reina taking catnaps. (Courtesy Lauren Baxter)

Meowington’s will likely feature food and drinks from area restaurants, and Baxter said she is reaching out to find culinary partners.

“My focus is on the cats. The café part is supplemental to everything else,” Baxter said.  “I want to enhance the community, not be just another place for a croissant.  I would like to incorporate the city of Williamsburg and offer some of the variety of the city.”

Laska said that as of Thursday HHS has a cat population of 72 available for adoption. That number has reached as high as 130 within the last year. Laska said that cats, especially older cats, often sit in their care for a long time before being adopted.

“As long as we have so many unaltered [non-neutered] pets in our community, we are going to have population issues,” Laska said.  “This café will help bring exposure for adoptable pets in our community.”

To add your thoughts to a survey on the prospective business, click here. 

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