Business & IP Centre Devon

June’s Spotlight on Cool for Cats Café

The Cool for Cats Café is one of Devon’s best kept secrets. Taking inspiration from animal cafes popularised in Japan, the Cool for Cats Café is a non-profit where customers can enjoy cake and coffee along with the company of cats.  

Cool for Cats initially opened in Totnes in 2013 as the UK’s first ever cat café before re-opening in Newton Abbot in 2018. Since then, it has been a huge asset to the community, and all profits go towards maintaining a cattery and rehoming service that benefits owners who need a place for their feline friends to stay.  

Much has been said about the purr-fect experience that the Cool for Cats Café provides, but it also has a rich history as Elizabeth Dyas, Owner and Founder of the Cool for Cats Café, has had a long career working as a nurse, midwife, and a female entrepreneur. 

For those that don’t know, what does Cool for Cats do? 

“I run a boarding and rescue business and I also run a cat café, which is very special. I started the very first one in England in 2013. Other cat cafes have opened since then; they don’t all follow my idea. I think that small children shouldn’t be in there. A cat’s only got to have its tail pulled once or twice, and it’s not fair, so we don’t let anybody under 16 in here, and it works really well. 

We have a whole list of local societies including parts of the hospital that use us on a regular basis. The Autism Society, Eat That Frog CIC, and Langdon Hospital book us out, but there’s a whole long list of people that need help.  

We bring our rescue kittens in here so people can cuddle them for a short while. It gets them used to the idea of the noise of a hoover, cups and saucers, people laughing, and when they go to their home, they’re very well socialised. 

The cats in here are all adults. They don’t have to be in the cafe if they don’t want to. They have a garden and a chalet that they can go to over the bridge, so they can have an extra day off if they want!”

How has the business world changed for women over the years? 

“It’s changed so much. I’m now 85, but my first business, I was 23, and it was in Chelmsford, Essex. I opened one of the first day nurseries in this country. Before day nurseries were known, all the women stayed at home and brought up children until they were five, then they went to school. It was the start of women breaking away from the kitchen sink. 

In the end, I ran two day nurseries, I had 50 children every day, from 10 months to five years, but of course, the government have a big input now.” 

What has your journey been up to opening the Cool for Cats Café? 

“I moved down here in 1982. I was a full-time midwife then, but gradually it became that the animals I kept up here and the children appearing all the time, I asked locally if I could open it for people to visit and help with the animals. 

It started off as Twiggy Winkies Farm, and it was written on all the minibuses in town, then someone near London that ran a children’s programme called St Tiggywinkle’s Farm challenged the name. People kept bringing in hedgehogs, and we handled prickly balls every day, so in the end, we called it Prickly Ball Farm. 

It was all on the radio, it was on planes going over to America, and it was a popular tourist attraction. I sold Prickly Ball Farm. We worked at West Hatch Wildlife Hospital, and we had the cattery built. The RSPCA paid me to look after their cats, so I could pay the vets to look after the wildlife.” 

Do you find it difficult getting volunteers? 

“We don’t have any problems getting volunteers. We try to help all sorts of people with all sorts of problems, and that’s what we’re here for, to help sort it out. And it does work. All our staff are brilliant. I couldn’t manage without them.

I’m getting a bit frail now, so I do a lot behind the scenes now. I’ve got a new younger member of staff who said ‘could you teach me a little bit about business?’, and because I’m winding down, I’ve given her the reigns a bit, and she’s brilliant. She’ll run her own business one day.” 

What sort of stuff do you do behind the scenes? 

“All sorts of things, lots of cleaning and repairing. I’m building something that’s going to be another lounge, and the kitten room onto the garden. I start at seven in the morning, I’m lucky if I finish at seven in the evening, and people still call me late in the evening because I’m here. The cattery pods all have cameras, so people can see their cat while they’re away and then they’ll ask to move the bowls, etc. 

Any money we make, we just live on our pensions, and the money that comes in goes in here. So I’m not rich, but it works really well.” 

Do you have any advice for people wanting to start a business, particularly women? 

“All I can say is that I’ve never written a presentation of a business you’re going to run. How can you do that if you’ve never run it? It’s just rubbish to me. 

If it’s a good idea, you just get on with it. Get over it. Get over the problems. You’ll always have problems, and you’ll have problems when you’re running it, so you’ve got to learn. And a bit of paper’s not going to help you.” 

Is there anything you’d like to say to people who haven’t been to a cat café before? 

“If they like to try it and if they love cats, I’m sure they’ll enjoy it!” 

Lastly, who would you say is people’s favourite cat? 

“All of them are special. Everybody has one that comes to them all the time; it’s probably the cat that chooses you.” 

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