Story LiliAnn Paras | Photo Mike McLaughlin
Imagine dining on really tasty and natural local food, sipping specialty teas from around the world amidst eclectic eye-popping local art on the walls, all while enjoying the company of cats and kittens. On top of that, proceeds help fund the care and adoption of the resident cats. This is unusual enough, but the story behind Catsbury Cafe Tea House and Cat Lounge in Asbury Park makes it even more compelling. In the relaxed and friendly Catsbury Cafe, it is hard to imagine the labor, time and circuitous route it took to make this vision a reality. Right up front you need to know that the cat visiting room is separated by glass from the dining area so that even those who are not enamored of cats will find Catsbury Cafe is a destination in its own right and sparkling clean.
Cat cafes are a relatively new phenomenon. The first one was started in 1998 in Taiwan but really took off in Japan in 2004, as a way for cat lovers to interact with cats in crowded cities. Now the cafes are gaining popularity around the world and in the US; Monmouth County residents are fortunate to be on the cutting edge and to have one in our own backyard. I met with owner DJ Bornschein and manager Jamie Nichols just before the September Grand Opening and learned how DJ came to create the cafe with Jamie, who hails from Australia.
DJ, an Asbury resident, started out at 19 years old working in stage management for a local band, “Bouncing Souls.” He traveled extensively with the band and while working in San Francisco three years ago, DJ heard there was a local cat cafe. As a cat lover he decided to see what it was all about. He had no idea what to expect, and the visit changed his life. He was getting ready to make a change in his career but had no concrete plans. “An hour before I walked in that place, I didn’t know what I was going to do and then I walked in and saw a vision in my head of where we are now, this cat cafe.” He emphasized that the home-like environment for ten to fifteen cats lends itself to show shy cats better than in a shelter cage. And he knew it had to be in his home town. “Asbury is just the right amount of eclectic, and the right amount of progressive and weird and different and it just made sense.” The plus for DJ was also the mission. “It is a business where the ultimate goal and aim is to help find rescue homes for cats and to do something positive.” Now intrigued but not quite ready to start, DJ told no one of his plan. He decided to visit as many cat cafes as possible and through his travel with the band over the following year, he visited cafes in Hawaii, Oregon, California, New York, England and over 30 cafes just in Japan. He learned what to do and more importantly, what he wanted to avoid. DJ’s band travels had also taken him to Australia now and again over a period of ten years. There he met Australian native, Jamie Nichols, who also worked in the music industry in merchandising. They became friends and Jamie has joined Catsbury as the manager. DJ put it this way. “I hired her to be my boss—best decision I ever made.”
By the time he approached the Asbury officials in the building and health departments with the concept, he had a solid proposal. He also had a lot of knowledge and experience in managing multiple cats, because he was fostering cats for adoption from his Asbury home. Catsbury teamed up with the Monmouth County SPCA and DJ has special praise for Nina there. Cats are carefully screened for health and personality. All cats and kittens are available for adoption, but in any case, will have a forever home at Catsbury. DJ hopes to put a special emphasis on taking in those adult cats whose owners are in hospice and can no longer care for them.
While I visited the cat room with DJ, Jamie was setting up the cafe section. She noted that while the cats are the main attraction, they wanted the dining part to stand out as well. The Cafe is a wonderful example of a true community effort. Light fare and snacks are packaged and provided by Asbury’s own Lettuce & Lemon, where one of the owners is DJ’s friend from elementary school. And appropriately, the food company is named Lettuce and Lemon after the caterers’ two cats. The revolving artwork is provided by Parlor Gallery across the street. Even DJ’s grandmother played a part in the cafe. DJ reminisced about good times shared with his Irish grandmother while enjoying hot tea together, even when he was only a child. This instilled a love of tea and is the inspiration for the specialty teas offered. Coffee lovers can enjoy a cup from Intelligentsia.
The Grand Opening exceeded expectations and as of the time of this article, eight cats found new homes! This made room for more cats, including four rescued from Hurricane Irma.
Whether you are looking for good food and beverages, art, merchandise, private parties, or of course, cat companionship, you will find it at the Catsbury Park Tea House and Cat Lounge, 708 Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park.
Information on visiting hours, donations, menus, merchandise, and the adoption process can be found at catsburypark.com or by calling 732-361-8997.