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Relax over a coffee and cake... with feline friends

Every edition we assess an aspect of the French zeitgeist. This month: the trend for cafés full of feline friends, by Jane Hanks

The latest trend in cafés will appeal if you love a cuddle with a cat as you can now enjoy a drink, a snack or a meal in one of the many Neko Cafés or Café des Chats springing up in towns all over France.

The first opened in Paris in 2013, but now they are to be found in Marseille, Nice, Avignon, Narbonne, Perpignan, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes to name but a few.

The concept originated in the Far East in the nineties in Taiwan. It became popular very quickly, especially with Japanese tourists and soon there were Neko cafés in Japan. Neko is Japanese for cat. In both Korea and Japan there are now sheep, meerkat, racoon, rabbit, dog, owl and even snake cafés.

The first Café des Chats to open in France is so popular customers sometimes have to queue outside to get a place. Its owner is Margaux Gandelon, who told Connexion she opened her restaurant to combine her two passions, her love of animals and cooking: “I had heard of the Neko cafés in the Far East but there I think they have a different approach where the animals are seen as objects and you pay per hour of your visit. I wanted a place which operates like a normal restaurant, but where there are cats and you can enjoy their company.”

Her cats come from animal welfare associations to whom she also gives a part of her profits. At any one time she has between 12 and 13 cats: “It is the associations who choose the cats who come to me because they can observe them and pick the ones which get on well with other cats and with people as that is very important.

“The cats live in the restaurant but have rooms where the public cannot go, one with their litter and one just for them. Of course they cannot go in the cooking area and we have regular hygiene checks.

“The cats have 150m² of space available to them and plenty of high places to climb to and perch on. They stay here at night and we can check if there is a problem with surveillance cameras. If ever we have a cat which is not happy in this environment we find a family to adopt it and let it move on.”

She says she has many different kinds of clients: “They are all animal lovers of course and are of all ages. Some live in the city after a life in the country and miss having pets. We have lots of visitors from abroad who have left their cats at home.

“However, we can never guarantee that you will be able to have a cat on your lap when you are here. They lead their own lives and we tell clients that it is important not to wake them up if they are sleeping and that they must never feed them.”

The advantage for the clients she says is that the animal’s presence creates a special kind of atmosphere which is relaxing.

The Maison d’Elise in Nantes has five cats, but these are special ones as they are Maine Coon and bigger than most domestic cats.

Elise Jeantet has always been passionate about this race and though she had never been in the catering business before, she took the plunge and opened the Maison d’Elise in 2015, after hearing about the Café des Chats in Paris.

She says she has loved the experience: “Maine Coon are very special because they are dog-like cats who are devoted to their owners and they are calm, so ideal for this kind of venture.

“They come home with me in the evening, but are happy to be back in their second home during the day.

“You can come to my café and enjoy an organic tea or coffee accompanied by a home-made cake, sit in a comfortable chair and read a book with a cat by your side, purring contentedly, which will make you feel good too.”

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