PACIFIC BUSINESS NEWS
Pop-up cat cafe to open a permanent location later this year
By Christina O’Connor
Reporter, Pacific Business News
July 10, 2019 • 12:43 pm HST
After a year of hosting a monthly pop-up cat cafe, Popoki and Tea founder Liberty Peralta has secured a location for a permanent storefront at 3424 Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki.
Peralta recently signed a three-year lease on the storefront — which is next to pet supply shop The Public Pet, where she’s been holding the pop-ups — and plans to open Popoki and Tea by late 2019.
The 700-square-foot space will be divided into two portions: a cafe that serves milk and boba teas, coffee and pastries, and a cat lounge filled with about eight to 12 cats at a time. Peralta plans to eventually hire about six employees to staff the kitchen, coffee bar and cat lounge. The cats will be provided through a partnership with Pearl City-based animal rescue organization KAT Charities.
Peralta told Pacific Business News that she hopes the cafe will “create memorable experiences for people.”
“There are a lot of people who can’t own pets — and I was one of those people for a long time — but want to spend time with an animal, so offering that experience to people is something that I want to do,” said Peralta, who’s also a multimedia producer at PBS Hawaii.
But her primary reason for starting the cafe is to help find homes for the cats — all of which will be available for adoption. While she anticipates that devoted cat people will visit the cafe, she also aims to create enough universal appeal to attract those who are not-so-enamored with the animals.
“If people who already like cats bring their friends who maybe aren’t sure about them, I hope that we can help grow the pool of potential homes for cats,” she explained.
Housing cats, after all, is a huge need. There are estimated to be about half a million stray cats throughout the state, including about 300,000 on Oahu alone.
“That’s a lot of cats. It is a daunting statistic, but I feel like exposing people to cats can help,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s about making a difference in the problem that we have here with so many cats that don’t have homes — the possibility to make a dent in that is what really motivates me.”
It might sound like a stretch for people to suddenly want to adopt a cat after interacting with one, but, in fact, that’s exactly what happened to Peralta. Growing up in Waianae, Peralta had dogs and other animals, but she said she “didn’t really know anything about cats.”
“I guess I just always thought — and it’s a common stereotype — that cats are aloof and don’t really care to interact with people, but that’s actually not true,” Peralta said. “I think that they just (interact) on their own terms, and when they do, it’s so sweet.”
Her mind changed a few years ago, when she held a cat for the first time while participating in a volunteer service day at Hawaiian Humane Society.
“I see how people can change if they’re given the opportunity to be around these animals,” Peralta said. “That is what I would like people to experience.”
Peralta launched the pop-up events with the eventual goal of opening a brick-and-mortar. (The pop-ups are currently on hiatus as she focuses on opening the store.) The pop-ups, she said, allowed her to build a following and introduce people to the concept before she committed to a permanent location.
Each month, the pop-ups drew in about 200 people and often had a line out the door. Over the last year, 64 cats have been adopted through Popoki and Tea.
“There has been so much excitement around it just at the pop-ups, so there is a lot of potential that I see,” she said.
Cat cafes have become a growing trend in recent years. The first was founded in Taipei in 1998, later spreading throughout Asia. The first U.S. cat cafe opened in California in 2014, and there are now nearly 100 throughout the country, including another one in Honolulu — the Hawaii Cat Cafe on Kapahulu Avenue, which opened last year.
Given her success with the pop-ups, Peralta is confident that the demand for cat cafes is high enough to accommodate multiple shops within the Honolulu area.
Plus, she points out, “there certainly is no lack of cats.”