A wildly popular trend in Japan that started in 2004, cat cafés have gone global and Malaysia has seen a surge of such establishments this year. Friends Darren Teo, Ndison Ting, Rachael Tan and Ching Yee are among the many entrepreneurs intrigued by the concept.
Before setting up their cat café though, they already had a similar experience with canines. “We opened a dog café in Semenyih, Selangor, last year and it is doing well,” says Teo.
The partners were then inspired by one of their peers who owns a cat café in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur. “I haven’t personally gone there yet but both Ndison and Rachael visited the place and noticed prospects to start such a business. It’s not so new but is definitely a trend now — having a place where people can dine in and play with the animals. We just went along with the idea lah,” he adds.
“There are a lot of cat lovers in the Klang Valley but because pets are not allowed in many condominiums and apartments, young people and students who are renting especially are not able to keep them. So, we are providing the space for them to visit, play with cats and de-stress.”
Teo, an aesthetician and the owner of Vogue Clinic, has always been a dog person, so he needed to learn more about felines to prepare himself for the new venture. Besides reading and watching videos, he decided the fastest way to get acquainted with cats was to spend time with them. “The first creature I got was an Exotic Shorthair. I immediately fell in love with it. All of us adopted more cats to get familiar with their behaviour and antics.”
It took them only a month to get the business up and running. “We mulled over the idea for two months before looking for a shoplot. While I was occupied with work at my clinic, Ndison and Rachael were running around town looking for a place. Eventually, we found this lot in Taman Danau Kota. It was in good condition, so it was easy for us to do a bit of touching up before opening the space,” says Teo.
While the shop was being renovated, the founders started bringing in cats of various breeds such as Ragdoll, British Shorthair, Munchkin, Napoleon and Maine Coon. Within a month, they managed to acquire more than 20 from China. “We have a lot of different breeds because it is an important aspect of running a cat café. And we cannot simply take kucing liar, for example, because there is concern about health and hygiene.”
So, why the name Ragdoll? “Because Ragdolls are a popular breed and they are probably the most expensive. We thought the name would attract those who really appreciate the species,” says Teo. “It is also my favourite type because the cats are really manja and I love them a lot,” Ting adds.
The extensive menu was planned chiefly by Ting and Tan, both of whom have a background in culinary arts. “We wanted to tap into the Malay market as well because our previous venture was a dog café, only appropriate for non-Muslims. The cat café’s location is quite a challenge when it comes to attracting our target audience as it is situated in a Chinese area. We try to make up for this by choosing a shoplot that is closer to a nasi kandar restaurant and the like. We also offer Muslim-friendly food and beverages,” says Teo.
The main dishes include English Breakfast, Nasi Lemak Ayam Goreng, Rendang Mutton Rice and Unagi with Tamago Rice Bowl. For those who fancy snacks instead, there are crispy fries, dumplings and Korean fried chicken in a variety of flavours, including Milky Cheesy, Bumblebee Honey Mustard and Yangnyeom Sweet and Spicy.
Ting, who works at the same clinic as Teo, enjoys experimenting with food. He has come up with a new flavour for the Korean fried chicken called Blackpink Sensation. “The chicken’s skin is black — a result of batter mixed with squid ink — while the pink sauce is made using berries and yoghurt. It is something fresh and we think it will be a hit among our customers,” he says.
Ragdoll Catfe was established to offer cat lovers a brief respite from bustling city life. It boasts a camping concept, incorporating various elements of the outdoor life such as foldable chairs and tables as well as faux greenery. “We cannot put real plants because it is not practical with cats playing here and there. The chances of the greens getting damaged are very high,” says Teo.
There are cat houses of different sizes in almost every corner of the café — “Easy for the cats to hide when they get overwhelmed” — and wand toys for visitors to interact with the felines. Patrons are encouraged to check with the staff before picking up a cat because some of them may not like being carried around and prefer to play instead. “Some cats are anxious, while others are more calm. We are okay with our customers getting close to the docile ones. Our concern is the cat may lash out if it gets irritated,” Teo points out.
Just like all animal-friendly eateries, hygiene is a big concern. “We make sure to keep the place as clean as possible by using air filters and sanitising frequently. Customers must also sanitise their hands before they come into the shop or touch a cat. They have to be careful and not let the cats come into contact with their food. It’s not sanitary and the cats should not be eating human food,” he says.
Plans to add to Ragdoll Catfe’s feline family are in the pipeline and the owners’ ultimate goal is to expand to as many locations as possible. If the idea of going to a restaurant to enjoy waffles and lattes while being surrounded by healthy and happy furry friends sounds good to you, you know where to head now.
Ragdoll Catfe, 60-1 Plaza Usahawan, Crystal Ville, Off Jalan Danau Niaga 1, Taman Danau Kota, KL. Daily, noon to 10pm.
This article first appeared on Dec 4, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.