Within the next few months, a café like no other in Boston is coming to 167 Chestnut Hill Ave. in Brighton—just across the street from Fuel. But what makes PURR Cat Café so special isn’t exactly the food that it will serve, but the furry residents that will hang out there all the time.
Diane Kelly first heard of the idea of a cat café when she was on her way to North Carolina where she was studying to open up a dog grooming business and was immediately smitten. On her ride home, Kelly visited two cat cafés: Crumbs in Georgetown, D.C. and Meow Parlor in Manhattan.
“I was really interested in the concept,” Kelly said. “By the time I made it home, I said ‘I’m not going to do dog grooming: I’m going to open a cat café.’”
Kelly has been working to open her very own cat café since that snap decision in 2015. She spent two months researching cat cafés that were already open to make sure this was what she really wanted to do. Kelly had quit her job in the medical field to pursue her lifelong dream of owning her own business, and wanted to be sure a cat café was an appropriate investment of her money and energy. After contacting the owners of other cat cafés, she found that they could be surprisingly profitable.
From that moment on, her first obstacle was the most difficult to overcome. Technically, cat cafés are illegal in Massachusetts since one can’t make food around animals. But, as Kelly explained, persistence was key in obtaining a permit from the city. After meeting with the Boston Public Health Commission three times, Kelly gained the support of the commissioner and his team, as well as the support of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, MCAS ’09, who sent representatives to community outreach meetings to support the café’s concept. By partnering with a local business—a business yet to be finalized—that will prepare the future food and drinks served, PURR was finally given the permit.
Kelly was also required to hold meetings where members of the Brighton community close to the current PURR location could voice their concerns. Given that cat cafés are still such a novel concept, the idea was very well received by the community.
Kelly was originally looking for a location near Kendall Square, but finding a landlord that would permit about 20 cats in their building was yet another obstacle in her path. When she found one in Brighton that would let her, she jumped at the opportunity. Kelly also suspected that the café’s close proximity to Boston College would be an added benefit, as the customers of the other cat cafés that she studied have largely been students.
Kelly intends to take full advantage of PURR’s proximity to BC, drawing students with future two-for-one deals and discounted four-hour passes. The price for a regular one-hour admission will be $15, with food and drinks bought separately. The café’s projected menu currently features items like coffees, sodas, desserts, and other snacks.
Kelly is also planning many cat-centered events at PURR, including speed dating, movie nights, and painting nights. Kelly also plans on launching yoga with cats, and arts and crafts with cats in hope of attracting the café’s current followers—85 percent of which are women.
Kelly believes that all of the effort that has gone into this café will benefit the community of Boston and many cats.
“I want the community to enjoy the cats,” Kelly said. “I know a lot of people in Boston can’t have pets in their apartments. One of the things we’re going to do with PURR is we’re going to do community education. If you have a cat or dog, you need to be responsible and think about taking care of it permanently.”
And this message is the underlying one driving PURR. All of the cats present at PURR will be up for adoption. Kelly has partnered with Boston Forgotten Felines (BFF) to bring their cats to the café and help them get adopted there. BFF, which lacks a physical shelter and instead runs on a foster-home system, finds feral felines on the streets, traps and neuters them, and then finds foster parents for the domesticated cats.
Kelly also revealed that PURR already has a collection of eager people ready to volunteer to help the company. At some point in the near future, Kelly will invite anyone interested in volunteering and host a meeting. There, they will discuss what role the community could play in their mission. The meeting time has not been decided yet, but these volunteers will be vital for Kelly, and her general manager Sarah Dellea.
“[Dellea and I] both love cats, but we haven’t worked with cats,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to have our team do educational lectures about cats.”
In the coming week, Kelly will start the construction and interior design of the PURR space. Kelly will start an Indiegogo campaign to help raise money for this final step—a tool that other cat cafés in the past have used very successfully.
Kelly admits that this operation of trying to get PURR to become a reality has been exhausting to her both physically and financially. But these burdens have not stopped Kelly from making her dream come true.
“It’s just a new experience,” Kelly said. “It’s so nice to know I’m going to be working for myself and saving animals.”
Featured Image Diane Kelly