Over the course of my 40-minute interview with Lori Konawalik, founder and owner of the MacTabby Cat Cafe in NoDa, I was lucky enough to be crawled all over by a parade of gorgeous cats: there’s Jared, the adventurous and agile cat that Konawalik places on my shoulders as soon as I walk in, handsome, smokey lap cat Kenny, who seems like an ideal all-day Netflix companion, and Sierra, the cafe’s spunky resident three-legged kitten. Konawalik knows them all, singing their unique praises and pointing out their antics as we talk.
This experience is common for anyone who visits MacTabby or Daily Mews, a cat cafe located in Oakhurst and owned by wife-and-husband team Tamara and Andy Leicester. In both businesses, customers pay a small fee to enter the cat lounge for either a half hour or a full hour. All of the cats at each cafe are rescues — Daily Mews partners with their neighbors at Monroe Road Animal Hospital, which runs a unique adoption program for both dogs and cats, while MacTabby partners with Catering to Cats and Dogs, a pet-rescue organization in Charlotte that handles adoptions from the application process onwards. In both cafes, customers can simply let a staff member know when they’ve fallen in love with a cat, and they will guide them through the process. The adoption fee for each cafe covers spaying and neutering, the healthcare the cats receive prior to adoption and essentials like food, litter and maintenance.
Both Konawalik and the Leicesters got into the cat cafe business after a lifetime of loving, fostering and rescuing cats. Tamara and Andy had both fostered cats and participated in animal rescue before and spotted a gap in feline-centered business in Charlotte that inspired them to pursue the idea of a cat cafe. While the Leicesters have a background in business, opening MacTabby was much more of a leap of faith for Konawalik, who had no business background, three children and an ongoing photography career.
“It seemed very daunting. The fear was ridiculous,” she says. “I made sure I was humble about it and gained as much knowledge as I could about things I didn’t know.” Any doubt Konawalik may have had about whether or not a cat cafe could thrive in Charlotte was assuaged by the outpouring of support she received before the business even opened. Konawalik established a GoFundMe for MacTabby with the goal of raising $20,000 for the cafe in 30 days; instead, she raised more than $20,000 in under 30 days. As a result of this fundraising effort, Konawalik says, “I don’t ever feel like this is my cat cafe. I feel like its me and 299 people who made this happen. It’s all of ours. It’s the city’s cat cafe.”
Building a welcoming and therapeutic space for humans as well as cats is a central mission for both Daily Mews and MacTabby. When the Leicesters purchased the Daily Mews building, they made sure to install ramps in order to make the cafe ADA-compliant and accessible. Andy explains that he’s spoken with some customers who report feeling unable to enjoy experience-based businesses in Charlotte because their locations are not accessible, and he wanted to ensure that all community members could be a part of the cafe’s mission. Daily Mews also partners with Time Out Youth Center, an LGBTQ community center located down the street. Youth participants in the program are offered free admission to the cat cafe, and the staff makes sure to let customers know they are welcome to use their preferred names and gender markers on the waiver all guests must sign before they can enter the cat lounge.
Konawalik and the Leicesters both say they would love for Charlotteans to consider their cafes a destination not just for adoption, but for coffee, getting work done, going on dates, even birthday and graduation parties. Any contribution, whether it’s adopting a cat, providing donations, or patronizing Daily Mews’ boutique shop for cats and cat lovers, strengthens the ecosystem of pet rescue in Charlotte. Strengthening this ecosystem in turn helps to place cats with forever families so that space can be made for at-risk cats in kill shelters to move into more stable shelter environments and, eventually, homes of their own. As Andy Leicester says, “Get a coffee, get a sympathy card for someone whose pet has passed away. Visit the lounge… It’s not just, ‘Oh, there’s a cat I can pet.’ The fact that that cat got there and is alive, and was saved from a kill shelter took resources.” Ultimately, Charlotte’s cat cafes provide refuge for four and two-legged residents alike, contributing to the fabric of the city.