Downtown café draws friends of felines

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The Pawsitive Cafe, a cat café which opened last year, is thriving with student support. Learners stop by the café to play with felines while enjoying drinks and snacks.

Owner Suzanne Peters, a former Petco employee, had witnessed students coming to its adoption centers just to play with cats every day. Peters and her husband John Denman decided to turn that activity into a business.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring a cat café to Rochester,” Peters says. “Cats are amazing. They lower your blood pressure. They definitely have de-stressing abilities.”

Originally, the couple had planned to open the business in Rochester’s South Wedge neighborhood, but COVID-19 put their plans on hold for a couple of years. When they started looking for a location again, they were able to find one in the East End area.

“It was a blessing in disguise and a stroke of double luck,” Denman says.

The café officially opened last June. Patrons pay $6 to spend 30 minutes with the cats and $10 for an hour. Pawsitive’s food and drink are from local vendors—a desire the couple had from the beginning. The drip coffee is from Canaltown Coffee Roasters, th tea is from Happy Earth Tea, and the snacks are from Red Fern. The menu includes vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options.  

However, the main attraction for students is the more than a dozen cats. Currently, there are 15 cats, with 12 up for adoption. The other three are permanent residents that Peters and Denman call the “management team” and “employees of the Pawsitive Cafe.” The cats come from Rescued Treasures Pet Adoptions, an adoption group that the couple wanted to work with because of its focus on finding the best homes for animals. Since the café opened, 35 cats have been adopted.

Given the East End location, students from the Eastman School of Music and the River Campus at the University of Rochester are regular visitors. During orientation week at Eastman, the Wilder Room above the café hosted the formal dance for incoming Eastman freshmen.

“So we had all of them coming in and looking and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a cat café here,’” Denman says.

Similarly, during orientation week at the River Campus, a concert took place at the Eastman Theatre, and several students were bused over and told to do whatever they wanted for two hours. Many stopped by the window to see the cats.

“We owe a majority of our success to the student base,” Denman says.

Not only do the students come to visit, but they also volunteer. Peters and Denman are the only employees at the café, so they rely heavily on the support of volunteers. At the moment, 10 volunteers help out at the café. By the start of the next semester, applications will open again and the couple hope to accept more people for once-a-week shifts.

In addition to playing with the cats, visitors can book the café in advance and attend events. Student organizations have booked it for meet and greets, and so have parents for children’s birthday parties. Denman and Peters have also planned fun events of their own, including yoga and movie nights, painting classes, board game nights, and even a make-your-own comic class.

“I wanted to find something that can easily be subverted by a cat,” Denman says. “Like board games. You’re having a fun time with the board games, cat jumps on the board, everyone laughs, it’s fun. Everyone’s having a great time.”

Next month, Pawsitive Cafe will partner with the National Alliance on Mental Illness for a journal prompt night, a free event. Each participant will get a journal and some writing prompts while the cats walk around.

“It’s our way of giving back because student life is stressful,” Denman says. “I know that, especially. I was a music student, so I empathize strongly with everybody.”

Though Eastview Mall houses the Purrs and Paws Cat Cafe, it was a novel concept for Denman and Peters to launch in the city. The couple often wonder which events will work, how late the café should stay open, and if it should open earlier. They are still “flying by the seat of their pants,” Denman notes.

The couple hope that the business can continue to stay open in the long term. While Peters works at the café full time, Denman still works another job.

“I’d love this to be, you know, the last job we ever work,” Denman says.

Peters says their goal is to create a “positive, stress-free environment for anybody.”

“It’s a great escape for people,” Denman says. “I want someone to take 30 minutes to an hour out of their day to just let the world be there and let (them) be here.”

Nadia Pentolino is a student at the University of Rochester. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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