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pet project

An idea with legs: Pittsburgh pair work to open 'cat cafe'

Two Pittsburgh women are trying to bring the first "cat cafe" to the city.

Indigo Baloch and Olivia Ciotoli envision a coffee shop called the Black Cat Market where clients can get responsibly sourced drinks — and possibly a forever friend.

"A cat cafe is much like your typical coffee shop, but you can interact with cats while you're there," Ciotoli said via e-mail Wednesday. "This is ideal for students in dorms who can't own cats, business people who want to relax on their lunch break or after work, or just your general cat and coffee lover. The original model didn't involve adoptable cats, rather just the same group of cats lived in the cafe permanently. But adopting them out just seemed like the right thing to do since so many cats need homes."

Ciotoli is a 2014 graduate of Point Park University, and Baloch will graduate from Chatham University next year. The "dynamic duo" met through the Pittsburgh DIY music scene about two years ago and is very passionate about supporting local artists and having a creative space for people to gather.

They hope to open the shop in September in Bloomfield, Lawrenceville or Regent Square but say they're keeping their options open.

"Our main goal is to create an environment thats makes our customers and the cats happy," Ciotoli said. "It's been scientifically proven that cats can help provide healthy blood pressure, lower anxiety and improve general mood. Giving these adoptable cats a space to socialize and be comfortable increased the chances of them finding forever homes."

So what kinds of coffee will they be serving?

"Both (food and drink) menus will start off quite basic and grow once we get settled," Baloch, who will be the main barista, said Thursday in an email. "We'll start with brewed coffee, lattes, cappuccinos (or rather cat-ppuccinos), americanos, hot and iced tea, iced coffee drinks, etc. We'll begin with a basic choice of flavored syrups like vanilla and hazelnut and my goal is to then have our own house made syrups like lavender and rosemary. Also, having spent time in Taiwan and Japan, I would love to introduce hot and iced matcha lattes."

The pair has teamed with the Animal Rescue League of Pittsburgh, which will provide training and adoption services for the cafe. The goal of the Kickstarter is to raise $20,000 to start the business. Within a day of launching the campaign, more than $9,000 has been raised.

Ciotoli said the reaction has been "a-meow-zing" and that she and Baloch have been overwhelmed by the response and generosity of backers.

"I had heard about cat cafes from various articles about the ones in Japan, and then eventually their slow spread into the United States," Ciotoli said. "At first, I thought 'Oh my gosh, I have to visit one!' because I love cats and coffee, but then I thought 'Well, wait. Why don't I just open my own!' "

More information can be found on their website and Kickstarter page.

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