DC's First Cat Cafe Opens (No Thanks to Regulators)

How a cat-loving entrepreneur brought kittens and caffeine to the nation's capital


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Even though Kanchan Singh is a born optimist, there were moments when it looked like her dream of starting Washington, DC's first cat café would never get its paws off the ground.

Singh, 24, got the idea for her first business venture while backpacking in Thailand. Walking among the temples and medieval city walls in the city of Chiang Mai, Singh stepped into Catmosphere, a wildly popular bakery that doubles as a petting zoo for cats.

Singh, who fancies felines and has an aptitude for business, pounced at the prospect of bringing a cat café to America. She partnered with the Washington Humane Society, which enthusiastically agreed to provide an unlimited supply of adoptable cats. When the local news media discovered her business plan, citywide anticipation for Crumbs & Whiskers reached a fevered pitch.

But the city authorities weren't so enthusiastic. Singh said the Office of Zoning "couldn't classify us, because nothing like this has ever existed before." Even then, she faced steep legal costs and arcane bureaucracies to navigate. "You show them that you're going to be using state-of-the art equipment for the café," she said. "You prove to them that you're going to have the highest standards possible for animal care."

Singh says others have tried to start cat cafés, but none survived scrutiny from the Department of Health. Like zoning, the Department of Health had to formulate a unique set of regulations for a business that defied all previous categorizations. Permitting requirements meant five-figure costs and bureaucratic delays. "Eventually they're like 'Wow, we're really going to have to work with this person, because they do not stop calling and they do not stop emailing,' " Singh said.

All this was months before the first employee had been hired, let alone a lease signed or catnip purchased. Where would all the money come from?

Since Kanchan had already put her own savings into the venture, it would take a stunningly successful Kickstarter campaign to give Crumbs & Whiskers a chance. To satisfy the Department of Health, she also agreed to nix the idea of making food, and instead partner with a bakery across the street. 

In March, ReasonTV caught up with Kanchan Singh on the most important day of her life as a cat entrepreneur. She was arriving at her final meeting with the Office of Zoning to hear a decision that would make or break her dreams of bringing cuteness and caffeine to the nation's capital.

Runs about four minutes.

Produced, shot, and edited by Todd Krainin. Music by Lee Rosevere.

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