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Cheshire Grin Cat Cafe combines coffeehouse and cat rescue

MARINE VILLA – Like lovers of felines everywhere, Jamie Crowe and Alex Tu positioned themselves on a floor and played with a cat. 

“I have cats at home. I want more,” Crowe said. 

“The cats seem more sociable,” said Tu, who lives with Crowe in the Central West End.

The two were introducing themselves to homeless cats at the Cheshire Grin Cat Cafe at 1926 Cherokee St. The recently opened cafe is an odd combination of a coffeehouse and a place where you can interview and pick out a new feline friend.

Don’t laugh. The Cheshire Grin Cat Cafe is one of a group of similar places around the country and the world where you can write your Great American Novel on your computer while drinking your coffee. That is, if one of the multitudes of cats nearby doesn’t rub against your ankle and demand a brisk rub on the head.

The cafe is the volunteer project of Paul Scimone and Kateri Cotter, two lovers of cats who decided to take the extra step to ensure that no feline ever gets left out in the cold. 

“We’re rescuing cats and helping them find their forever home,” said Scimone, who has kept his job as a veterinary technician. “You can just hang out and have a coffee or a cookie, or you can go to where the cats are.”

Going inside the cat sanctum will cost you $5, but there’s a good chance you’ll find the cat of your dreams there. There can be close to 20 cats at any time, brought in from a local cat rescue. On a recent day, there were about 11.

On the first floor, cat lovers can check out the kitties relaxing in cubby holes on the wall. The second floor is more like a typical coffeehouse, complete with Wi-Fi. 

After checking over the selection and finding a cat he or she likes, a person can fill out an application. Within a day or so, the cat, neutered and vaccinated, can go to its new home.

“Our goal is to reduce the euthanasia rate of adoptable cats in city shelters,” Scimone said.

The format is pretty common in Asia, Scimone said. There are a number of such cafes around the U.S., including one – the Mauhaus Cat Cafe – in Maplewood. 

Dick Ulett and his wife, Helena O’Reilly, know all about cafes for cats. The two were at the Cheshire Grin Cat Cafe recently and declared that it measured up to cafes they’d visited all over the place. 

“We have a bunch of cats. We are here to see a cat. We’ve been in cat cafes all over the world. We have a cat problem,” said Ulett, who’s known for broadcasting over such stations as KXOK, KSD, KSHE and WSIE since the 1960s.

“We travel a lot, and it’s a cool way to get into a city wherever we go. Plus we love cats,” said O’Reilly, who added that this one was one of the nicest places she’d seen.

It helps that the Cheshire Grin Cat Cafe is a labor of love in more ways than one. Besides being cat lovers, Scimone and Cotter are engaged. 

“I worked at Stray Rescue in a shelter before. That’s how I met Paul,” Cotter said. “We wanted a more homelike environment to show off the cats and their personalities.”

After a year and a lot of painting, they were ready to open. 

“We wanted a good location. I feel like we found it,” said Cotter, who works in graphic design. 

“We like how historic it is. There’s a lot of foot traffic, and everybody is so nice and welcoming,” she said. “Our main goal is adoption, to save more cats, because there are so many cats out there that need help.”

And if people just want to use the Cheshire Grin Cat Cafe as a place to drink coffee, that’s fine, too. If the cats will leave them alone.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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