Kaimuki Café is the cat’s meow
By Brandon Bosworth
Honolulu feline fanciers have a new place to relax, spend some quality time with cats and perhaps even meet a new best friend to take home.
Opened this February in Kaimuki, Popoki + Tea is the brainchild of Liberty Peralta. She grew up in Waianae surrounded by a variety of animals, though ironically no cats. As an adult living and working in Honolulu, Peralta got her first cat, Mara. From that point on, she was a verified cat-lover.
Peralta first heard about the cat café concept from someone at a startup she was working at.
“It was a totally new concept to me,” she said. “It took a while for me to realize that’s what I wanted to do. It was a way to do social good while giving people a positive experience.” Peralta started holding special kitten adoption and boba tea pop-up events at The Public Pet on Waialae Avenue to test the waters. It was a way to try out some of the concepts she had in mind for her future café. “I did this once a month for a year and a half, and found homes for about 80 kittens. The pop-ups were very popular, with people lining up to get in.”
A conversation with one of the owners of The Public Pet, Jordan Lee, helped further motivate Peralta to seriously start the process of launching what would eventually become Popoki + Tea. She secured a space right next door and started construction in January of this year. “From the very beginning it was very important for the café to have a modern look and feel,” Peralta said. “There’s a stereotype of ‘crazy cat people.’ We want to show how having a cat is a cool thing, that there’s not just one type of cat person.”
The entrance to Popoki + Tea utilizes a double-door system to help prevent escapes, so cats can’t just run through an open door onto the sidewalk. Since it can take two to four weeks for a cat to get comfortable in a new environment, there is a room in the back with litter boxes, food and sleeping areas for cats to hang out until they are ready to mingle.
The cats at Popoki + Tea are up for adoption. Peralta works with the nonprofit animal rescue organization KAT Charities.
All of the adoptable cats were rescued from the risk of euthanasia, either from high-risk shelters or from off the street. They live at Popoki + Tea until they find their forever homes — however long it takes.
While the previous pop-up events focused on kittens, most of the felines at Popoki + Tea are adults. “Older cats need more help,” Peralta said. “Once a cat is older than 6 months, it gets exponentially harder for them to get adopted.”
At any given time there are between 12 and 20 cats living at the café. The “tea” part of Popoki + Tea comes courtesy of another Kaimuki neighbor, The Curb Kaimuki.
The coffee shop provides snacks and prepackaged tea, allowing Popoki + Tea to do without a kitchen and donate more space to the feline residents.
Right now, Popoki + Tea only has a couple of part-time employees. However, this could change as the café grows in popularity. Peralta has a clear idea of what she looks for in potential hires.
“Many would assume I would look for someone who’s really into cats — and that’s not untrue — but liking people is even more important,” she said.
Having good communication skills and being able to make visitors feel comfortable is key. Employees can’t be too squeamish either.
“There’s lots of cleaning involved, so it’s best if you don’t mind bodily fl uids,” Peralta said. While Peralta could see expanding and perhaps offering beverages made in-house, the tea is not the main focus of Popoki + Tea.
“The reason I started this was to expose more people to the affections of cats,” she added.
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COMPANY: Popoki + Tea
LOCATION: 3424 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki
OWNER: Liberty Peralta
YEAR OPENED: 2020
BENEFITS: Free cat lounge time outside employee shifts; discounts on tea, cookies and merchandise
PHOTOS BY ANTHONY CONSILLIO