Tucked among vape shops and tattoo parlors, a cat cafe has popped up on Washington Avenue between 14th Street and Española Way. Tourists soaking in the sun in a post-Christmas stupor peer through a window into a version of the paradise surrounding them.
For the 26 cat “residents,” it’s called Purradise. They roam freely in a space emulating South Beach – complete with palm tree scratch posts, lifeguard stands and bean bags resembling beach balls, which serve as ideal nap pods for tabbies, calicos and Persians.
“The nice thing about having them in this big, open space is that their personalities can shine through,” said Celyta Jackson, owner of the Cat Café South Beach. “It’s hard to be winsome when you’re in a cage.”
Jackson, a New York City transplant who moved to Miami Beach about four years ago, opened the city’s first cat cafe in mid-November. It serves locally roasted coffee and speciality baked goods, like Cindy Lou’s Cookies, while allowing patrons to watch the cats through a large glass window. It costs $15 per person to enter Purradise and play with the cats for an hour.
Since its opening, 20 cats have been adopted from an initial set of 35.
“We encourage people to come in and interact with the cats and see their personalities,” Jackson said. “The cat picks you. You don’t pick the cat.”
A South Beach-based nonprofit SOBE Cats Spay & Neuter rehabilitate strays and offers them to the cafe once they’re ready to be socialized with cats and other humans. The cafe allows for same-day adoptions and charges a minimum $75 donation fee, which goes toward supporting SOBE.
“It’s a blessing,” said Mary Thingelstad, founder of SOBE. “It’s helping me get these cats off the streets and pay their medical bills.”
Not every cat makes the cut to be housed at Purradise; cats must show they like humans.
“If you can’t play nice, you can’t stay here,” Jackson said. “We had a beautiful cat who liked all the other cats until a new one arrived and she took a strong dislike to the poor newcomer. She changed the behavior of the group so she had to leave.”
About 15,000 cats were brought to Miami-Dade County Animal Services in 2017. According to Jackson, several volunteer organizations estimate there are more than 150,000 stray cats just in Miami Beach.
Jackson, who has a background in international tourism marketing and has fostered cats for a long time, said the idea to open a cat cafe didn’t come to her right away.
“I was approached with the idea because I became the cat lady of my little neighborhood,” said Jackson, who lives two blocks from the cafe.
She was at first reluctant to open one because she thought it was “ridiculous business idea.” Running a cat cafe is complicated, encompassing four businesses: food and beverage, a tourist attraction, the adoption service, and retail.
For Jackson, the need outweighed any potential difficulties. She wanted to help revitalize that part of Washington Avenue.
“The dreadful business model turned out to be an excellent one,” she said.
Jackson hopes to add more programming next year, including pet training classes for kids, cat stretching classes, and possibly even a cat film festival.