Brieanna Rekow and Lindsey Marzo went through an entrepreneurship program at the University of Tampa and came out with the dream to open a cat cafe.
Now the graduates are ready to do just that. Cats & Caffeine is set to open this month in South Tampa, and could be the very first kitten lounge in the city.
In a shopping plaza near the Sprouts Farmers Market on Dale Mabry Highway, the cafe will be home to foster kittens where visitors can make appointments to play with and possibly adopt. Rekow and Marzo said the community is already excited about having a cat cafe in town and residents are helping donate items they need to open.
“Tampa’s a really dog friendly community but there are people who are cat people, and now there’s something for them to do,” Rekow said.
Rekow, 23, and Marzo, 22, said they came up with the idea when they visited a cat cafe during a trip to California. They thought the business concept would do well in the South Tampa area.
Cat cafes have popped up across the US in recent years, including the Sunshine Kitty Catfe in St. Petersburg. Tampa’s Cats & Caffeine will open at 4033 Henderson Blvd., providing a 1,600-square-foot foster home for the kittens.
The cafe will have a “South Tampa vibe,” Marzo said, with modern and luxurious pink themes where visitors can take photos. They commissioned local artist Bianca Burrows, who has worked on projects for Fresh Kitchen and the Shine Mural Festival, for art inside the space.
Through an accelerator program at University of Tampa’s John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center, Rekow and Marzo attended business meetings that helped them keep track of their plan and forge local connections. They credit the program for pushing their idea to grow into a tangible business. Rekow graduated finished in May 2021 and Marzo school in December.
“It held me accountable week after week from ‘here’s my logo’ and ‘what’s my next step,'” Rekow said.
Marzo also co-founded a Tampa-based marketing agency, the Modern Media Group, which has helped the cat cafe with branding and promotions. But one of the hardest steps for them was finding the real estate.
“We called every place to lease as far as Seminole Heights,” Marzo said. “We just met the right landlord at the right time. He saw that we’re ambitious and not just some college kids.”
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The cat cafe’s opening couldn’t come at a better time. Local shelters are overflowing with animals in need of permanent homes. The Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center said last month that they’re at 500% capacity for cats. Cats & Caffeine will foster microchipped kittens through a partnership with the Tampa-based nonprofit Cat Lover’s, Inc. All kittens will be available for adoption.
There’s no pressure for visitors to adopt cats at the cafe, but the owners said they hope it becomes a place where people consider giving one a home.
“Our main goal is to increase exposure for the cats to get to potential adopters and create an experience,” Rekow said. “All our cats are cage free and this is their foster home until they’re adopted.”
Visitors spending time with the kittens helps get them used to human interactions too, Marzo added.
When it opens, guests will have to book appointments by the hour which costs about $22. Customers can also order coffee and prepackaged food, all kept in a separate room from the animals.
Cats & Caffeine plans to host events like yoga cat nights, painting nights, and are working on obtaining a liquor license so they can one day serve wine. The kitten lounge will also be available for corporate events and birthday parties.