Owner Outlines Plan for Charles Street Cat Café

The owner of a proposed Charles Street cat café, which would be home to 10 “resident cats,” discussed her plans for the business on Thursday, Sept. 29, during a virtual abutters meeting sponsored by the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services.

Brittany Baker, a resident of Beacon Hill since 2014 who has extensive previous experience working in bookstores and cafes and has also volunteered for the last 10 years as a “feline behavior” specialist with the Animal Rescue League of Boston, said A Sanctuary Café would comprise three components – a café, a bookstore, and a “cat lounge” – and span two levels at 80 Charles St., which was last home to a Hingham Institution for Savings branch.

“We’re basically leaving it all as is, except for removing the carpet,” said Baker, who added that the retail space was renovated about 10 years ago. “I love the character that the building already has.”

The first floor would be divided into three “completely separate” areas, including the café, with an expresso bar, which would offer drinks, along with pastries and other baked goods; the bookstore; and the upper cat lounge, said Baker, while the garden-level space would include the lower cat lounge and an ADA-accessible restroom, along with mechanicals space and a “Back of the House Cat Support Space” for employees only.

An ADA-compliant lift would offer access between the two floors.

“We worked very hard to make the space accessible and inclusive for all types of people,” said Baker.

Proposed hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the café and bookstore, said Baker, and the cat lounge’s hours would be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The capacity for the business is 49 people.

The bookstore and café spaces would be free to enter, with no reservations required. The café wouldn’t offer food delivery via any third-party apps (e.g. DoorDash), although food can be consumed there or taken out. The bookstore and café will also be “separated spaces” to appeal to patrons who aren’t fond of cats, or are allergic to them, said Baker.

Cats would also not be allowed in any areas where food and drink are prepared, and all food would come from an outside vendor.

The cat lounge space would require reservations to keep the cat-to-human ratio “appropriate,” said Baker, while reservations would be staggered (every 15 minutes) to ensure there are no queues on the sidewalk waiting to get inside.

The 10 “resident cats” will “selected for compatibility,” said Baker, while the cat lounge would offer “a really low-stress, happy environment for them.”

A Sanctuary Café won’t offer pet adoptions, however, nor can patrons bring their own pets there.

Reservations for the cat lounge are expected to cost around $30 per hour and would be available in hour-long intervals. Complimentary coffee and tea would be offered in the cat lounge, and food can be consumed in the space as well.

There are also plans to offer free or discounted reservations “for certain populations in our community,” said Baker.

A Sanctuary Café would also give back in other ways to the community, added Baker, including matching every book purchase with a donation to a Boston Public Schools student; and “by supporting Boston’s cat population (and the people who support them.”

Baker described its small bookstore space as a “micro bookstore,” which would stock a “carefully curated” selection of titles that have all been “read and finished by a staff member.”

While A Sanctuary Café would be the first business of its kind in Boston, other U.S. cities are already home to cat cafes, including New York City and Brooklyn; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; San Diego; Denver; Charleston, S.C.; Indianapolis; and Milwaukee, according to Baker.

Baker’s lease for the space could run up to 20 years, she said, so she hopes her business will become a long-term addition to Charles Street.A Sanctuary Café is seeking a variance from the city to house live animals on the premises, as well as a conditional-use permit to offer food and beverages. But Baker assures neighbors that the business has no plans to sell  alcohol in the future.

“Some cafes want to turn into a wine bar down the road,” she said. “We are not one of them.”

Abutters and neighbors are invited to share their comments and concerns regarding A Sanctuary Café with Maggie Van Scoy, the city’s neighborhood liaison for Beacon Hill, via email at [email protected]

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