St. Elmo's Naughty Cat Cafe - purrfect!
Whitney Sickels and Heath Hanson moved to South Pittsburg from Hawaii’s Big Island just a few months ago. On the Big Island, the owned an off-the-grid pineapple farm. In southeast Tennessee, they now own the area’s first cat café.
"We mortgaged our farm on South Pittsburg Mountain to get the startup money for this because the concept is so new that it's very difficult to argue for a small business loan on a room where people come to pet cats,” Hanson explained with a wry grin. "The community has embraced us like we could have never expected. The support we've gotten from all across the board has been quite over-whelming actually."
In their first three days of business, Whitney and Heath welcomed nearly 600 visitors to their new business venture in St. Elmo.
One of the most common questions about the Naughty Cat Café though is how they managed to navigate through local government red tape.
"The first call we made was to the Hamilton County Health Department,” said Hanson. “I had to preface it with, this is not a joke, please don't hang up but we would like to put animals and people and beer in the same space. They were remarkably receptive, they asked for a lot of information and they came back to us and they were quite clear with their mandate. We agreed on some logical, common sense mitigators."
For example, Naughty Cat Café can serve food and drinks, but they cannot make it in their building. In a true local business effort, Naughty Cat has teamed up with other small business owners in the area to provide food, coffee and beer.
At the core of their business venture, Naughty Cat does in fact serve a very important purpose in the community.
"Our cats come from the Humane Educational Society,” says Sickels. “The shelters are overrun with cats and you know it's hard for them in the shelter environment to thrive often. They're in a cage and you don't really see their true personality. We're just providing the space so that their true personality comes out and you could really see what that could be like in your home environment."
To visit with the dozens of adoptable cats in the common area, Naughty Cat Café does charge a $13 entrance fee.
"That 13 dollars goes to cover the rent, common area maintenance expenses and the insurance premium we have to have on this very unique space,” says Hanson. “If you adopt a cat, 100% of that goes back to the shelter. Whitney and I are the only employees, we donate our time. The only way we see any profit is if you buy a t-shirt with our logo on it or a cupcake. This is essentially a small business with a non-profit mission statement."
There are plans to introduce ‘spay and neuter’ days, ‘yoga with cats’ days, date nights, trivia nights and much more. You can follow that schedule and much more by following their along on their website.