Story and gallery by JOLIE BELL
Coffee. Conversation. Cats. What do they have in common? They are integral to a new local small business.
Tinker’s Cat Café is the first of its kind in Salt Lake City. A novelty in the United States, cat cafés are popular in other parts of the world, particularly Asia. In fact, the very first cat café opened in Taipei, Taiwan, and soon turned into a sensation in Japan. Cat cafés are a twist on a traditional coffee shop. In addition to coffee, tea and goodies, people also pay to socialize with felines.
Lisa Boone is the owner of Tinker’s Cat Café, located at 302 E. 900 South. Boone saw her first cat café while watching late night television. The idea intrigued her and soon she developed plans to open an establishment of her own. She decided to name her café after her childhood pet, Tinker, who lived to be 22.
“It was all from Tinker, he shaped how I thought about cats,” Boone said. Along with petting cute kitties, the café serves a variety of specialty drinks including coffee, hot chocolate, Italian soda, and tea. It also sells pastries from other local businesses.
The cats themselves come from Salt Lake County Animal Services and are spayed/neutered and vaccinated. One aspect that is unique about Tinker’s is many of the cats may be adopted. In fact, more than 80 adoptions have occurred since it first opened the doors in 2017.
The adoption process is simple. If someone decides to adopt, an employee meets with them and discusses their history with cats. If it is the person’s first time ever owning a cat or if they have other animals in their home, the employees explain what the future pet owner needs and how to care for the cat. There is a $40 adoption fee per cat.
Adoption isn’t for everyone. Boone understands not everyone has the funds or a suitable home for pets. The café fills the need for those who love animals and she feels the café is a positive experience for both the people and felines.
“It’s a win-win,” Boone said. “Especially for the timid cats because they can socialize and get used to an environment.” The cat room, adjacent to the café, is open and without cages. This allows patrons to show them affection while they are living at Tinker’s, which can help the cats come out of their shell.
Not every cat is up for adoption. For some, Tinker’s becomes home. One cat has been at Tinker’s since it opened. He stays to help the new cats acclimate to the surroundings by sitting with the newly acquired timid cats.
“We are not sure what cat magic he has,” Boone said with a laugh.
Throughout the year, Tinker’s acquired several regular customers. Sarah Murtagh is one. Murtagh said she loves the calm environment and has made friends with other kindred spirits.
“When I was going through a rough time in my life, the café was where I found therapy,” Murtagh said. She bought an unlimited pass for the cat room to visit her furry friends as often as she could. Eventually her living situation changed and allowed her to own a pet. Once Obsidian (Obi for short) crawled into her lap at the café, she knew they were a perfect match.
Not everyone is looking to adopt. Some are interested in something new and fun to do. Ally Jelitto, a University of Utah student, visited the shop on a whim after noticing the café driving through town.
“I felt fancy drinking a latte while petting a cat in my lap,” she said in a phone interview. “I’d go back more, but if I do I might go home with five cats,” she said, chuckling.
Recently Boone began organizing special events at Tinker’s such as Cat & Paint, Yoga, and Crochet with Cats. Boone has more event ideas on the horizon, such as trivia or game nights.
The paint and crochet classes offer a coffee, hot chocolate or tea and an hour in the cat room with an instructor. The yoga class is an hour and allows an extra half hour to play with the felines. The curious cats will sit on the yoga mats, play with people’s hair and bat around the balls of yarn.
Reservation spots fill up quickly to spend time with the cats. Or, customers may walk in (if there’s room). The cost is $8 an hour and $4 a half hour in the cat room. Tinker’s offers an unlimited monthly pass for $50 or an unlimited annual pass for $600. The café also provides a children’s hour for kids 8 and under from 5 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. It is $6 each for children and parents.
The café hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday- Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Tinker’s is closed on Mondays. The cat room opens at 11 a.m. and closes the same time as the café does.
Boone is looking forward to another year of business and to continuing to foster a community location where people can connect. Success has its price, however. As the felines leave for their forever homes, it can be difficult for Boone and her employees who become attached to them.
“It’s bittersweet,” Boone said. “However, I’m happy they are going to good homes.”