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140+ adoptions, 9 staffers and 7 months: Inside Bloomington-Normal's first cat cafe

Emily Bollinger
In just more than seven months of business, nearly 150 cats have found permanent homes as a result of people visiting them in The Cat’s Meow Cafe in Bloomington.

One cat is, of course, a cat. Two cats are a pair. And three or more cats are called a clowder.

But 16-18 cats?

Technically they'd make up a clowder, too, but you could call that number The Cat's Meow — since that's how many are in Bloomington-Normal's only cat cafe at any given time.

Launched just over seven months ago, the cafe in Suite E at 507 N. Hershey Road in Bloomington has exceeded owner Lauri Meins' expectations — both as a cat lover herself and business venture.

"I think we're all, as a group, over the moon with how successful it's been," Meins said in an interview. "It's just been a great way to get exposure for these animals."

As an idea, The Cat's Meow was conceived in the summer of 2021 while Meins was in Tennessee. She dropped into a cat cafe there — the first one she'd ever visited — then began thinking about what it would take to recreate that business in the Twin Cities.

"It was like, 'We need a cat cafe in Bloomington-Normal.' In the post-pandemic world, we needed different communities, people are struggling more with their mental health and they don't have an outlet for the natural serotonin you get from having a kitten in your lap — we just needed something like that in this community," Meins said. "So I was like, 'I'm going to make it.'"

It took a couple of years of planning before The Cat's Meow opened in September 2023. The hardest part, Meins said, was finding a willing party to lease commercial space for a business split between retail food service and animal care.

"That was very, very hard," Meins said. "Once those hurdles were gone, though, I feel like it's been fairly smooth sailing."

A staff of nine workers help her run the business, their job descriptions capturing everything from making lattes to scooping litter to sharing lore about the cats that stay there. A typical number ranges from 16-18.

A woman in a plaid shirt holds an orange cat in a room with white and brown furniture.
Lyndsay Jones
Lauri Meins opened The Cat's Meow Cafe in September 2023. Since then, more than 140 cats have found homes thanks to a partnership between the small business and Pet Central Helps, a local not-for-profit animal rescue.

"It's totally hard because I fall in love with every single one of them. I know them all personally. But I know they're going to find forever homes and that's so much better than me, one human being, could care for," said Meins.

The cats come from Normal-based animal rescue nonprofit Pet Central Helps. In just more than seven months of business, nearly 150 cats have found permanent homes as a result of people visiting them in the cat cafe. The Cat's Meow picks up the tab for litter, food and whatever else the cats may need in order to conserve Pet Central Helps' resources, Meins said — part of the reason there's a $5 entry fee.

"There is a good amount of effort that goes into caring every day for this many animals," Meins said. "We do our best to keep everything super sanitary, super above board, very, very well cared for — and that does take a lot of manpower and a lot of finances."

Someday, Meins hopes there's an opportunity for both entities to expand the work they've been doing via the partnership.

She plans to expand event programming at the cafe this summer, launching "Kid and Kitty" camp, a two-hour block of time for children to learn how to care for and act around cats, and "Future Cat Cafe Owners of America" for older kids and teens. At the latter, Meins said she plans to share the blueprint of how she opened and runs her business.

"The top reward is seeing how many cats are getting placed in their forever homes — so many cats have been rescued. But the happiness it brings to customers that just want to come in and relax — I really appreciate the texts I get from people saying, 'I was having such a bad day and I don't need to adopt, but I wanted to come in and pet some cats and feel better and good about myself,'" Meins said.

The Cat's Meow is open from 7-11 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. each day, with a few-hour break factored in for the cats. Entry to the cat portion of the cafe costs $5 and online reservations are recommended, since no more than 20 people are allowed in the cat area at one time.

Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.