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Trep Talk

Regulation Jiu-Jitsu: How These Two Ladies Made an Illegal Business Legal

Senior Entrepreneurship Writer at CNBC
7 min read

It’s perfectly legal in Paris. And in some parts of Asia, too. But it’s definitely illegal in New York City.

That didn’t stop founders Christina Ha and Emilie Legrand. These two entrepreneurs wanted to open a cat cafe in New York City. And they did.

In December, the duo opened the city’s first permanent cat cafe in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Called Meow Parlour, customers sign up for half-hour slots to socialize and cuddle with the cafe’s cats. Guests pay $4 for each 30 minute slot with a maximum charge of $30 for a maximum five-hour period. The cafe is booked through March 1.

For harried and overscheduled New Yorkers, Meow Parlour is intended to provide a furry, friendly respite. The hope is that they’ll also fall in love with their feline friends and bring them home; all of the dozen or so cats at Meow Parlour are provided by the local rescue group, KittyKind. Guests who pass a requisite screening can provide a “forever home” to whichever cats they choose.

While the concept is endearing, it’s also against the law. Any establishment serving food or drink is absolutely forbidden to have cats on the premises in New York City.

After doing meticulous research and making many calls to regulators, the co-founders came up with the idea of setting up two separate physical locations. If a patron purchases coffee and a cookie at the Meow Parlour Patisserie, then he or she can bring it into the Meow Parlour. Because the cookies and coffee are made separately from where the cats roam and live, the co-founders do not violate city regulations.

Ha, who also founded the bakery Macaron Parlour, which has two New York City locations, says that even her husband thought she was crazy when she told him about her idea. But she wasn’t deterred. “I am really stubborn. I have been this way my entire life,” she says. “If I am going to fight for something, I have to be very, very clear about what I am fighting for and why I am fighting for it. And I have to go in with full research done, full stop, and [be] ready to fight for it.”

Check out this video to learn more about navigating tough regulations. And oodle and ogle some adorable kittens and cats, too!


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