Wisconsin’s first cat cafe is now a creperie as well as a cattery.
When Cat Cafe Mad opened on Monroe Street in April 2016, the “cafe” part was a help-yourself operation with a Keurig coffee maker and a fridge of sodas and juice.
That wasn’t financially sustainable. Caring for a roomful of cats is expensive, and entrance fees alone couldn’t cover the costs.
“We either had to close it or go big,” said Cheryl Glover, a New Jersey resident who owns Cat Cafe Mad with her grown children, Lauren and Kirk. Lauren is a University of Wisconsin-Madison doctoral student who’s lived in Madison for five years.
The Glovers’ food options were limited at first — per health code, cats and food preparation can’t mix. So with nearly $11,000 raised in a Kickstarter campaign this year, the Glover family built a wall to create a front-room cafe divided by double doors from the backroom cattery. They also brought in a water line from the basement and installed kitchen equipment.
Starting in November 2017, Cat Cafe Mad began to serve sweet and savory crepes, smoothies, espresso drinks and flavored hot chocolates.
To develop the menu, Glover hired chef and operations manager John Dunn, who said he has more than 25 years of cooking experience starting at military bases in the U.S. and Germany. He said he’s cooked at several restaurants in the Madison area, like Heritage House Smorgasbord (closed since 1997), the Concourse Hotel downtown and Fitzgerald’s, a supper club in Middleton that closed earlier this year.
Cat Cafe Mad crepes come in two sizes, a 12- to 14-inch small ($5) and a plate-dwarfing 16-inch large ($9.50). Dunn makes a weekly special — over the week of Thanksgiving it was a turkey and cranberry crepe — but otherwise all crepes are build-your-own.
For the savory crepes, cafe patrons can choose one to two proteins like barbecued beef, bacon or tofu, and a few vegetables like onions, tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms. Sauces include curry, teriyaki, pesto and ranch.
Dunn cooks the batter on a crepe griddle, simultaneously grilling the savory filling on a separate surface before folding it into the crepe with butter.
Dunn fills sweet crepes with a choice of fresh fruit, covers them with garnishes like whipped cream, nuts, Nutella or jam and drizzles syrup on top. He recently brought in surprisingly ripe and juicy strawberries, a treat on a dessert crepe in the middle of winter in Wisconsin.
The crepe recipe originates in France. Glover learned it while visiting with a family friend in Paris.
“She took me into her kitchen and showed me by hand how to do it and gave us the recipe,” Glover said. “It was so good and so thin and so different from other creperies I’ve been to. We just love creperies.”
Dunn said he adds his own “little zing” to the recipe — additional eggs that make the crepes extra stretchy and strong. The batter is only good for four hours or until it reaches 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so he makes it in small batches. He makes the recipe by feel now.
“The only thing I use a measuring cup for is flour. Everything else is (by) pinch,” Dunn said. He’s also been experimenting with vegan and no-gluten batters, to meet customer requests.
In contrast to the K-cups and mass-produced sodas at Cat Cafe Mad’s original “cafe,” Glover made it a priority in the remodeled operation to source locally. True Coffee Roasters in Fitchburg supplies the beans and showed the baristas how to pull espresso shots and steam milk.
Glover, a self-described “chocoholic,” discovered Sjölinds Chocolate House in Mount Horeb years ago while visiting her daughter. She loved the chocolate so much that she brought it into the cafe. Now she’s ordering more every two weeks to keep up with customer demand.
Cat Cafe Mad’s specialty chocolate drinks ($4.95-$5.75) include an orange zest-infused Italian hot chocolate and a spicy Mexican hot chocolate with honey, cinnamon and cayenne.
“We just clean out of their hot chocolate. It’s our biggest seller,” Glover said.
About 65 percent of Cat Cafe Mad’s customers are students, according to Glover. With holidays, final exams and winter break, business may not settle into a normal pattern until February.
The cattery is home to about 20 cats at any given time — four resident felines and about 16 up for adoption through Community Cat. Cafe patrons can watch them through bubble windows in the wall, or pay a $5 cover to go into the cattery for feline companionship (available for ages five and older).
Cat Cafe Mad also hosts movie screenings, board game nights, craft nights and other special events.
So far, “we’re selling a lot of food,” but it’s too early to gauge if the new business model is working, Glover said. Ultimately, “the creperie has to support the cattery.”