Westville Gets Meowy Holiday Kickoff

 The cats fuel up before a day of being watched, petted, and cooed at. Mew Haven Photo. 

The cats fuel up before a day of being watched, petted, and cooed at. Mew Haven Photo. 

Westville’s newest business is trying to start the holiday season off on the right paw—by offering visitors a furry reprieve from holiday shopping. 

That’s Mew Haven Cat Cafe, open for a pop-up and trial run now through Dec. 13. Because owners Michael and Angela Pullo are still building out the kitchen and cafe’s main room, the cafe is only offering visits and limited merchandise at this time. Visits take place in the front foyer at the cafe, which has moved into a space at 904 Whalley Ave.

 The space, which the Pullos are still rehabbing. Lucy Gellman Photo. 

The space, which the Pullos are still rehabbing. Lucy Gellman Photo. 

Cat cafes are an emerging national trend, in which cafes have cats (sometimes up for adoption, sometimes not) that visitors can watch and interact with. Mew Haven will mark Connecticut’s first, joining cat cafes in 14 other states across the country. At the pop-up, a 55-minute session with a cat is $12.76, with reduced options for seniors, students and children. The cafe is booking through an online reservation system

The idea behind the pop-up is to gauge community interest and get New Haveners excited about the state’s first cat cafe, said Angela Pullo in a recent interview (she asked not to be photographed at that time). Mew Haven will then close for final renovations through early spring. Contractors will finish installing kitchen and cafe equipment, and shelving along the walls where cats can climb at their leisure. Pullo said she’s expecting the business to reopen at that time, after final approvals from business and heath inspectors and Animal Control under the Department of Agriculture. Working with a lawyer, the couple changed their building application from a "social club" to a cafe, meaning they will not have to go through the Board of Zoning Appeals before opening. 

To have cats in the cafe, the Pullos have been working closely with Animal Haven and Animal Control. While patrons cannot adopt directly from the cafe, there are adoption forms provided at the front of the space, with additional information about Animal Haven.

 Sandy, one of Mew Haven's first beta testers, gets cozy. Mew Haven Photo.

Sandy, one of Mew Haven's first beta testers, gets cozy. Mew Haven Photo.

Before relocating to Monroe, Conn. from New York City earlier this fall, she and Michael identified New Haven as “the place to be” for their business venture. With tight-knit, artsy neighborhoods like Westville, possible interest from surrounding towns, and student populations from Yale, Southern Connecticut State University, Quinnipac University and Gateway Community College that might want to de-stress with some kitty time, the two saw it as offering a chance for economic development in a state that still had a cat-sized black hole in its cafe scene. 

“I think people are just ready,” she said. “I like thinking that cats are people—it’s a lot easier to just sit, watch and wait [for them to interact].”

She didn’t grow up with pets. But her affection for the furry creatures began to grow several years ago, when she met Michael. His then-cat, Mr. Kitty, came with their relationship. So did visits to new cat cafes that were popping up in New York City and Washington, D.C., with names like Meow Parlour, The Brooklyn Cat Cafe and Crumbs & Whiskers. 

In 2015, her husband proposed opening a cat cafe of their own. “I’d never really thought of running my own business before,” she said. But it felt like the right time to do so. 

Once the cafe reopens as a full-service cafe and feline hangout in the spring, she said that she is interested in expanding the business to include not only a hangout option, but afternoon, evening and weekend class options like “Knitting with Kitties” and “Cat Yoga.”

“I don’t really know too much but it’s always great to have a new business in town,” said designer Neville Wisdom, whose store and fashion design studio is directly across the street. “I myself like cats. It’s pretty cute ... and any business that brings people here is a good thing."

Mistina Hanscom, who runs Lotta Studio with her husband Luke across the street, said that it seems quirky and “weird enough” to work in the neighborhood, and draw visitors from both New Haven and outside the city. Although Lotta also serves coffee, she said she is not concerned about competition, because the two establishments offer completely different products.