Crowd-Funding Campaign Started for Gato Café, South Florida's First Cat Café

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South Florida may be getting its very first cat café, a coffee shop where the main focus is on its feline inhabitants and not the caffeinated beverages.

The idea to bring a cat café to Palm Beach County is the work of sisters Adriana and Andrea Montano, a pair of young South Florida entrepreneurs -- as well as self-described cat appassionatos. They believe South Florida is the perfect place to build a cat café, what they say will be a "safe haven for humans and kitties alike."

They've dubbed their concept the Gato Café, and if crowd funding is successful, the establishment would function as a cat shelter as well as a coffee and tea shop. Funding for Florida's first cat café campaign began May 14 on Indigogo, and so far, the feedback has been positive, according to both women. The group has more than 4,000 Facebook followers -- and growing.

"[The cat café] is a unique concept that is very popular in Asia, and now it is popping up all over Europe," says Andrea, who envisions the café near her hometown of Boca Raton. "I believe Florida is the perfect place to open and expand this concept in the United States."

Just what is a cat café? As the name implies, it's a place where people come together to mingle, enjoy beverages like coffee and tea, and surf the web with free Wi-Fi. Often, patrons pay a cover fee -- generally hourly -- yielding cafés that double as a sort of supervised indoor pet rental. The world's first cat café opened in Taiwan in 1998, later spreading to Japan, with Tokyo being home to more than 30 such establishments.

While there are various types of cat cafés, all share one thing: They must obtain a license and comply with strict animal treatment and protection laws similar to that of an animal shelter. Japanese cat cafés, for example, enforce rules to ensure cleanliness and animal welfare. Many cat cafés also seek to raise awareness of cat welfare issues, such as abandoned and stray cats, and double as pet adoption centers. The Montanos plan to have adoptable cats provided by the area's top no-kill shelter, the Tri-County Animal Rescue Group.

"Our goal is to raise at least $75,000," says Andrea. "This will not only care for the cats but also will help us with the location fees, taxes, supplies, electric bill, Wi-Fi, POS system, and everything that encompasses starting a new business,"

The campaign site can be found here. Find the Gato Café on Facebook, or follow on Twitter @gatocafeflorida. Visit gatocafeflorida.com.

Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.

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