Marcela Senise – also known as la Foodsitter – works with children educating them about food, and lives for food experiences around the world!
She lives in Turin, Italy but travels for work & pleasure getting to know the world of food around the world and writing about it on her website.
She has two gorgeous cats, Teo and Jasmine and Stella the dog.
I had the good fortune of meeting Marcela when she was visiting New York City and reached out to me not so long ago.
Not knowing her passion for food at the time, I hit a lucky strike extra when I suggested we meet at the French Pastry shop Eric Kayser (aka Maison Kayer).
I think it helped me make a good first impression because she readily agreed to write a post for me about the first cat cafe in Italy which just happened to be in her home town of Turin. I’m sure the lure of cats and food didn’t hurt either! As a side note, if you haven’t yet read it, after this post be sure to read about Britain’s first Cat Cafe and see the differences!
Marcela Senise writes –
When Tamar asked me to write this guest post not only was I thrilled but also quite concerned if I’d live up to her expectations. It’s one thing is to write about food and children, but I’ve never written about cats!
Anyway Tamar darling, thanks for letting me be part of your uber cool blog, and here is my experience at Turin’s Neko Cat Cafè!
I met up with Angelo, one of café’s partners for a chat. A DJ and cat lover – he has one of his own and 7 at his parents’ home – he’s a man who is committed to helping the shelters of Italy. He’s been working as a volunteer for in various shelters around Turin quite sometime, and even created a non-profit organization to help raise funds for shelter animals.
Yet Angelo felt something was missing in his daily life. Surfing the web for inspiration, he came across the concept of the cat cafès in Northern Europe. As he studied them, he began to believe they would be the ideal innovation for Turin. But it had to be about cats not just the cafè.
He started a Facebook fan page last summer simply called Neko Cat Cafè Turin. No location. No opening date. By the beginning of 2014, he decided if this project was to take-off for real, now was the time to find out.
“That night I went to bed with 200-something followers. I said to myself, ‘If by tomorrow morning I have two new followers I shall carry on’.”
Angelo woke up to find over 2000 new followers in his page! Destiny, magic – call it what you like, but he took it as a sign and carried on, looking for locations.
He and his partners ultimately found a location suitable for their new tenants that was right around the corner from two of the partners (fate?!). It wasn’t a very central location but it was busy, just a few steps away from Turin’s main “piazza,” Piazza Vittorio, and reachable by public transport.
But that was not the only hurdle. He gathered vets and shelter experts to ensure the space requirements would make the cats feel at home. Two shelters were approached to help select cats for the café.
When I first visited Neko Cat Cafè in its earlier days, my impression was that it was a rather cold but friendly space. They’d been opened for only two weeks and had all sorts of social events planned like aperitivo each evening (a typical Italian habit of meeting up after work for a drink and some snacks, well known in the States as happy hour).
As for the cats, they were in a happy place, but still getting use to living in a new “home”. Matisse, Lotte (the only lady of the house!), Vert and Faust were the first four furry tenants to arrive in Via Napione.
As Angelo shared, “Matisse and Lotte were the first ones to take possession of their new space. Vert and Faus were a bit more reluctant, epecially Faus who was considered a cat with behavioral problems. Two weeks later when we had officials from the Animal Society Shelter and Sanitary Regulations visit, the first one to go and welcome them was Faus! My heart beat of joy!”
Later that month they received three new arrivals. Bernard (as in Shaw), Felix and Max. Funny and intellectual name choices that came from the cafè crew’s favorite books and composers!
Initially the idea was to put the cats up for adoption, replenishing the furry tenants from the shelters as they were adopted. But it was decided, considering their previous experiences, for them to have a forever home once-and-for-all was a must. Their home in this case would be Neko. Not only were they used to the space and living around humans, but the Neko Cafè crew had fallen in love with them! Oh well, these things happen (fate?!)!
However, adoptions are still very much top-of-mind at the cafè where they put those interested in adopting in touch with shelters and/or private contacts.
The number of cats at the café is seven. Yes, seven. It was coincidence, but they like it that way. And let’s not forget the role fate has played through every stage of this café’s creation! As far as healthcare, the cats are obviously fully vetted before coming to the café. And while there is no vet on the premises, there is someone on-call, and all the cats get routine check-ups.
I arranged to meet up with Angelo on a Saturday afternoon to visit the café for a second time. It was not as cold anymore because the cats were all around and happy within their “home and guests.”
I must say I was flabbergasted by the cleanliness of the cafe and how well groomed the cats are. I kept sitting on the floor to take pictures and play with the kitties and I can assure you I left with not a single cat hair on my trousers (what’s their secret?!).
My lovely lunch salad was eaten in the company of Matisse and Lotte who love entertaining the customers. Faust was more reserved but always making his presence known, as did Vert. By the afternoon Vert was ever so playful and in a more wakeful mood! Bernard is the sleeping kind and Felix and Max continue to be more reserved.
All to say that in such natural way, all 7 cats have created such harmony, and people do respect their environment. “We expect people to have a bit of common sense.” said Angelo, ”Thankfully it has been very few times we had to intervene in some disrespectful situations”.
Angelo & Co have many plans for Neko in the future. The main one is to finish the upstairs floor to cat proportions. So when you’re downstairs the cats are at our level, but upstairs everything would be scaled for the cats! The cat closures and even some of the décor take the cat’s privacy into consideration, giving them plenty of places to rest (and escape!).
Faust tends to go and lay down on the bridge when he needs his own space. Bernard loves the shelves. And yes, Matisse and Lotte are always around, playing and sitting on the tables, wanting to be in the middle of it all! In addition to the inside area, there’s a whole backyard that is only accessible by the cats (and staff of course) where they can retreat and have some peace and quiet if they feel the need. It’s also their “cat toilet” space!
Oh yes back to future plans! The team has received many offers for joint ventures but all Angelo could say is that soon Milan, Bologna and Rome will be having their own Neko Cat Cafès!
As for my impression, it couldn’t have been more positive. I actually have over an hour of recording from my interview with Angelo. You can see he know what he wants. For the cats and his new business he needs a positive financial return.
“My joy is to see how all this fits into place and the cats response to their new way of life. Very soon I will bring my cat in so she will have the feeling and understanding of why I have been away so much recently. I have no doubts she will fit really well as a “guest” or sister let’s see!”
If you’d like to see what’s happening at the cafe, check out the Neko Cat Cafe Facebook Page. And a HUGE thank you to Marcela for such a fine piece of reporting and letting us, for a moment, take a peak inside an Italian Cat Cafe!
And one last photo – I couldn’t resist not sharing.