A Tail of Success
Alum’s Popular ‘Cat Cafés’ in D.C., Hollywood Draw Celebrities While Saving Kitties
By Karen Shih '09
Photos by Stephanie S. Cordle
Portrait courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers
With pink and white fluffy pillows for lounging, greenery-covered walls that serve as a perfect Instagram backdrop and more than two dozen kitties eager to chase a feathered toy or have a cuddle, Kanchan Singh’s Crumbs & Whiskers “cat cafés” offer a serotonin boost to human customers—and a chance for its feline inhabitants to find a fur-ever home.
“I’ve always wanted to work with animals and connect other people with animals, but I never knew how,” says Singh ’12 (below, left), who grew up in India with a pet peacock and dozens of bunnies. “Sometimes this feels too good to be true.”
It was a trip to an elephant sanctuary and a cat café in Thailand that spurred her to leave an unfulfilling corporate job and pursue her own venture. “On the flight back home, I didn’t even have a notebook, so I kept asking the air hostess for more napkins to map out my entire business plan,” she says.
What’s a cat café, you might ask? These cozy spots first started in Japan, where many people don’t own pets because of long work hours and apartment restrictions but want to interact with animals. The concept has since spread all over the world. Singh opened her Washington, D.C., café in 2014 and her Los Angeles location the following year.
Customers can book online or walk in for half-hour to 70-minute time slots. While petting kitties and chatting with friends, they order drinks and pastries, which are delivered from local bakeries (to overcome regulatory hurdles on preparing food around animals). All the cats come from local animal rescue organizations, and customers interested in adopting one can fill out an application to get the process started. More than 1,800 cats have been adopted through Crumbs & Whiskers so far.
The cafés’ success has been buoyed by a steady stream of celebrities who visit, mostly in L.A. (though rocker Dave Grohl recently stopped by the D.C. location), increasing their visibility on social media and television.
Recognizable faces include James Corden—a regular who has shot segments there for his late-night show—Nicole Kidman and Drew Barrymore, who adopted two cats. Countless reality stars have also used the cafés for a change of scenery for their gossipy plotlines, from Netflix’s “Bling Empire” to Peacock’s “Paris in Love.” (Luckily, no catfights have broken out on the premises.)
Some cats want to be the star of the show, though, batting at microphones or jumping on top of cameras and distracting production crews from their work.
With a business model that depends on in-person clientele, Crumbs & Whiskers was hit hard during COVID-19 lockdowns and had to shut down for more than a year.
“The good thing is, during the pandemic, so many people were adopting cats that our partners were like, ‘Don’t worry! We don’t have cats to give you right now!’ That made things a little easier,” Singh says.
During her time off, she wrote a book of poetry and reflection called “Dear Me, I Love You” to help process the anxiety, depression and imposter syndrome that came hand-in-hand with the success of her business. Proceeds from the book, which came out in April, go back into the cafés.
Crumbs & Whiskers reopened last summer after vaccines became widely available, and Singh is excited to debut a Boston location next year.
“We’re looking forward to getting more cats adopted, and maybe expand to New York and Chicago too,” she says.
Meet three of the cats recently available for adoption at Crumbs & Whiskers. Follow @crumbsandwhiskers on social media to get acquainted with the latest ones.
AGE: 8 Months
LIKES: Snuggling in laps for comfy naps
AGE: 7 months
LIKES: Using his big eyes and bat-like ears to track down string toys
AGE: 9 months
LIKES: Keeping warm—since Sphynx cats are hairless—in cozy cat-shaped beds
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