We interviewed Sarah Zong about her start up business and how Rise Up helped her along the way. Read on to find out all about CatPawCino!
Tell us about your business…
I started CatPawCino in September of 2015. It’s a cat café where customers come to have a drink, normally tea or coffee and at the same time they can play with the cats.
As part of this I also work with the charity Feline Friends, they send cats here to the café and we help to find them new homes. Customers can show interest in adopting these cats from the café and then we get in touch with the charity in order for them to do the checks and ensure the homes are suitable for the cats to go to.
How did you come up with the idea?
Firstly, I really love cats! I got my first cat in 2010 and then a second and a third one so I knew that I was really passionate about them. I love coffee too so I started to think about combining the two together. I had also visited a cat café in China, they’re quite popular over there so I thought it might be a good opportunity to bring that idea to Newcastle.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Yes, I have always wanted my own business. I was pushed to try to start something too as after I graduated from Newcastle University I worked in a consultancy company for a year doing marketing, which I decided I didn’t like so I really hoped I could start my own business.
Why did you want to be self-employed after that year working for a company?
I had tried to work for other people and I felt as though that really didn’t suit me. It made me want to pursue something that I was actually passionate about and I felt I could work much better doing something that I love rather than working for a company. I was thinking of doing the cat café as it’s something that I’m really interested in and so I started to plan. It took a long time to organize as at that time there weren’t any cat cafes in Newcastle – there was only one in the whole of the UK in London – and so I went to Rise Up for some help.
How did Rise Up help your journey?
I used personal funds to start the business but Rise Up helped me to get my Visa which was the most important thing as it meant I could stay in England and start my business. When I went to Rise Up they helped me with my visa application which took about 6 months to complete. Rise Up gave me an endorsement for my visa after hearing a presentation on my idea. The chance to get a Visa through Rise Up is an amazing opportunity as otherwise it’s much more expensive and more difficult.
Did you face any problems when setting up your business?
Yes, the first one was trying to communicate the business idea to the council, which was really difficult because they had never heard of a cat café before so they thought it was crazy. They were worried about food hygiene and also about the cat’s welfare. I had to have meetings with the council on numerous occasions to try and explain what was going to happen and what the cat café would be like. They understood the idea after they had searched for cat cafes in England and found the ones in London. This took a lot of time and effort to sort out.
The second problem was finding a premises that would allow for its use to be for the cat café. Usually landlords didn’t want to rent a property to a new business, especially a business like this which they had never heard of before. They all felt that cats in a café was too strange. I looked for more than 5 months before I found this premises and I was really lucky because the landlord loves cats so that’s why he thought it would be ok to allow me to use the premises.
What would you say is the hardest thing about running your business?
I think it would be making sure that I keep people interested in my business and keeping people posting recent pictures or news about the cat café. Also its really important that I keep the cats happy too because all of the cats belong to me, I raised them all from 3 months as kittens and every cat lived with me at home before coming here. I really care about whether they’re happy or not. So basically, keeping the cats happy and keeping the customers happy too.
How have you spread the word about your café?
We relied a lot on social media, using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to help attract a lot of students as they’re really active online. We also had some press in the Chronicle as they did a report and a blog on us which really helped.
What’s your favourite thing about running the business?
My favourite thing is that I wake up and feel really good and happy about coming to work. It’s a really lovely thing to not be bored by your work.
Could you tell us about your typical day?
In the morning I open the shop, brush the cats, play with them and then start serving the customers as they come in. I make sure I give the cats some treats and then sometimes I work on the shop floor or sometimes I work in the kitchen. The days go really fast.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
You need to love what you’re doing and have confidence that you can make it a success. You need to be able to keep going and try hard if you hit problems, it’s important to persevere until it works, just keep trying, if one way doesn’t work then find another and start again.
Also, if you have a specific skill then use it to aid your business, for example I did an undergraduate degree in marketing and this really helped me when opening the business. Use the skills you’ve got and focus on what you are good at in order to push your business forward.
Do you have plans for expansion?
Yes, I plan to open another café downstairs. It’s a completely different project, there won’t be any cats! It’s going to be a 1930’s Shanghai style café. I want the customers to feel as though they’ve travelled back in time when they go downstairs.
What’s your favourite thing to do outside of work?
I love swimming and I do badminton with the staff every Monday which is great – it’s really good for team bonding!
Which is the naughtiest cat?
Alfie is the greediest but he’s pretty cool as he knows how to give his paw in order to get treats. Betty is probably the naughtiest cat.
CatPawCino can be found at 77 Quayside, Newcastle. NE1 3DE.
Go down to check out the lovely cats with a great view of the quayside over strong coffee!