Sana Hamelin was scrolling through online newsfeeds, when a Mashable headline caught her attention: “On the Greatest Day Ever, America’s First Cat Café Opens.” The story was about a promotional stunt from pet food company Purina that was playing on a popular cat-and-coffee craze that swept its way through Japan, Taiwan and Europe.

At that moment, the notion of starting Denver’s first ever cat café nestled its way into the corporate litigator’s head. “I just lost my mind. I became so obsessed with the idea – I didn’t even know it was a thing,” said Sana. “To me, it just sounded like heaven.”

KittyThe Beginning of Cat Cafe 

A few months later, Sana quit her job at a renowned law firm and sank her savings into the Denver Cat Company – a cozy shop located on Tennyson Street, serving up java, tea, prepackaged snacks, and of course, the option to play with adoptable kitties.

In a matter of weeks her vision went from a loose concept to putting Denver on the map for kitty fame. She nabbed the title of second cat café in the nation and was featured in Good Housekeeping, the Denver Post and 5280 among other publications. But for Sana this venture was more than just getting publicity.

The Altruistic Mission

“I really started this business to offer a more hopeful, happy environment than what you see at adoption shelters. The goal is to really help get these animals socialized and in homes,” added Sana.

Since she started her company in December 2014, Sana has helped more than 135 cats and kittens find their forever homes and averages two adoptions each week. She partners with rescue organizations PawsCo, Adams County Animal Shelter and Kneady Kitten to foster cats that live at her café until they’re adopted.

Overcoming Hurdles

She acknowledges that owning a small business, especially a cat café, is not for the faint of heart. She relies on a $5 entry fee for income and makes some money from “arts & cats” painting classes, coffees, teas and merchandise to support her business, her two part-time employees and herself.

“It’s not very lucrative, because it’s a niche business. I still can’t believe I get to do what I love,” said Sana.

Last May, she faced a blow to her business when she received a lawsuit from a customer after an alleged cat bite.

So she did what any passionate, Millennial-aged business owner does — took it to social media and posted an emotional plea on Facebook. And then something unexpected happened. Her post was shared more than 200 times, giving media wind of the story and inspiring a café supporter to start a GoFundMe page for the business-owner, raising more than $4,000 towards legal fees.

The Game-Changer

Cat in round thingThanks to an outpour of community support, the suit was eventually dropped and the money raised was donated back to rescue organizations. But the coverage of the lawsuit generated more business than Sana imagined. More importantly, the ordeal reminded Sana that people wanted to see the Denver Cat Company succeed.

Despite the hurdles from her entrepreneurial adventure, Sana is looking to open more cat-inspired businesses and plans to expand to other locations. While she didn’t reveal exactly what’s next, we’re pretty sure it’s going to be good.

Her advice to entrepreneurs? “Don’t take on debt when you’re just starting out. Instead, weigh what you need to invest in. I used the money I had and am so glad I did.”

 

FirstBank’s mission is to help businesses get big. It’s one of the reasons we advertise customers on billboards and feature them on our blog. In the spirit of National Adopt A Shelter Pet Day, we’re highlighting FirstBank customer and local cat café Denver Cat Company.

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