Introducing TOT: Toronto’s Cat Cafe


By: Alina Butt


Photo Credit/Zach Morgenstern


Many a student has walked past the darkened windows of TOT the Cat Café’s storefront on College and Spadina in the past few months and felt a worryingly intense amount of excitement. It’s so, so close to U of T. So much that it’s basically ours.

But with high hopes come high expectations, and I feel like I’m the only one who is, at the least, skeptical about the coming of Toronto’s first cat café living up to its predecessors. This especially since there are quite literally thousands of people expecting to simultaneously sip on a warm cup of coffee and dive into a furry, purry pool of feline and forget about all of life’s worries.

TOT has already delayed its long-awaited grand opening once now, being vaguely scheduled to open its doors to eager customers in late September. This doesn’t come as a surprise, however, because so far the city hasn’t appeared to prioritize capitalizing upon our rabid interest in the cat café experience.

Cat cafés first came into existence in Taiwan in 1998, and since then the phenomenon has slowly spread to Japan, England and even Montreal. Finally, maybe, it’s coming to us.

I say maybe because Toronto is only willing to offer us a compromised version of the cat café, which sits in stark contrast to the setup in Montreal. Local bylaws in Ontario are far stricter, and news outlets have taken notice of this distinction in their coverage of TOT. Toronto Life pointed out that “Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act currently prohibits businesses from harbouring live birds and animals in any room where food is made, prepared, processed, handled, served, stored, sold or offered for sale.”

Quebec has far laxer bylaws, allowing for cat and café to be one. Here, not so much. TOT plans to keep the cats in a separate room or enclosure that is easily visible and accessible from where patrons eat and drink. It sounds just fine, especially since we’ll basically take whatever we can get.

TOT is the lovechild of Kenneth Chai and Scott Tan, who started to save up for the business endeavor two years ago. Their business will get to call itself the first cat café in Toronto because of something that sets them apart from previous failed endeavors: financial security.

It’s taken Toronto so long to get a cat café because every other attempt didn’t have that sort of financial security. First there was the Kitty Cat Café, a sort of grassroots effort that got overwhelmed by initial costs and hasn’t quite taken off yet. Then there was Pet Me Meow, a strong contender with slick marketing and design that gave it an air of success before it even opened. Both launched IndieGoGo funding campaigns, and both received a small fraction towards their $50,000+ goals.

But TOT’s got it all together, and now all they’ve got to do is set it all up and pull it all off. With the social media hype surrounding them, they’ve used it to their advantage to begin the hiring process for baristas and shop around for art submissions for decorations.

In that sense, TOT is smart and poised for success. TOT understands that the community is their biggest ally in moving forward, so regular updates with pictures of their first cat, Olen, are the greatest source of anticipation for its future customers.

So, it looks like TOT’s got all the right stuff when you look at it laid out on paper. Despite my misgivings about how Toronto’s bylaws are affecting our idealized vision of cat cafés, I think the mere mention of cats is more than enough to keep such businesses afloat. After all, I’m pretty sure it’s not so much about the café experience being augmented by cats, but instead about the cat experience with a convenient side of coffee.

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