Pet cafés (like a Starbucks full of animals) have long been popular in Asia but have run afoul of U.S. health codes. A new breed of entrepreneurs found a loophole: Partner with animal shelters to promote adoption.
Case study: Sarah Wolfgang, owner of The Dog Cafe in Los Angeles
How it's funded: "Everybody loved the idea, but few people would invest in our crowdfunding campaign. After months, we locked in a private investor who wanted to make a difference in the number of animals being euthanized."
Red-tape triumph: "The health department said it would never be approved. I spent months negotiating. I even hired an architect to draw blueprints for our submission. It was a proud moment, right before our opening, when we earned our A grade!"
The business model: "It's built on a combination of American cat cafés, which often charge an entrance fee, and Korean dog cafés, which generate revenue like a regular café. We sell reservations online, and drinks and merchandise in our café."
What's next: "It bothers me when people with little to no animal-rescue experience come in asking how they can open up a dog café in their city. Our focus is to transform how America views shelter animals and how people meet their future pets, not to start a trend."
Related: Become a Pet-Sitter or Dog-Walker
Case study: Kristin Eissler, owner of Kawaii Kitty Cafe in Philadelphia
How it's funded: "My Indiegogo campaign raised $20,000, but this project was immensely more expensive than I could have imagined. The crowdfunding money covered only the city fees, architect's fees and plan review fees. Construction and design came from personal savings."
Red-tape triumph: "Cat cafés fall in a gray area of zoning law, so most of our delays were in acquiring permits. Two were rejected after our first submission, which starts the application time over, plus adds additional fees."
The business model: "We allow 10 people at a time in the café for one-hour intervals. We don't want the cats to become stressed due to high volumes of people. We'll also be doing bimonthly events -- like cat-and-wine nights and movie nights."
What's next: "Animal cafés have changed the way we think about the food service industry. If your business can have animals and food under one roof, anything is possible!"
Related: How to Start a Pet Business
Case study: Michele and Erik Wolf, owners of The Perch in Colorado Springs
How it's funded: "Primarily through savings. We already owned the building, but new signage and awnings, floor, equipment, retail fixtures, inventory, marketing materials, etc., were a considerable cost."
Red-tape triumph: "A board of health inspector said we'd have close to zero chance of getting a food service license. The laws allow us to serve hot brewed drinks like tea and coffee, canned and bottled drinks and prepackaged food without a license, so we went that route."
The business model: "We sell the cages, play stands, perches, food, toys and treats that bird adopters want. Customers seem happy to give us that business because they know the money helps rescue birds."
What's next: "Our long-term sustainability is in building a community and regular customer base. Even though our items can be purchased online, we've found that people love the experience of coming to the store."