Lessons learned for a new business owner who opened a cat cafe in Hawaii when the COVID pandemic hit

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — When Liberty Peralta decided to open a business she hoped would spark a love for cats in the community, she had no idea a global pandemic would come barking at her doors, which temporarily closed after their opening February 13. , 2020.

Kaimuki’s Cat Cafe provides a cozy haven for people who want to get away from everyday stress. AT Popoki + Tea, people can relax with adoptable cats while enjoying tea or latte. The business closed for six weeks from late March to June when the pandemic hit.

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“The loss of revenue was scary,” said Peralta, founder and owner of Popoki + Tea. “We were still doing adoptions by private appointment only, so at least we were able to continue our mission. But since June 2020, we have seen steady growth. »

Peralta adds that apart from the occasional request to postpone or cancel a visit due to exposure or positivity to COVID-19, they have fortunately been little affected by the pandemic.

“Perhaps it’s because we provide a unique, intimate and relaxing experience that allows customers to escape the ‘real world’ with our cats,” she explained. “Early on in the pandemic, we experimented with virtual experiences, but nothing beats actually being in the company of cats.”

As a business owner, Peralta said the pandemic has underscored the small size of its team and the need for more staff. She says a big lesson learned from last year was to plan vacation staff ahead.

Popoki + Tea houses up to 20 cats or kittens at a time in its living room. (Courtesy of Popoki + Tea)

“We did well over the holidays, but at one point it was just me and our full-time employee on the program, and we’re just recovering from the exhaustion from that,” said Peralta. “We are still a new company and learning a lot every day.”

The cat cafe recently hired a part-time employee and may soon fill a full-time position.

“I’m grateful that at a time when many businesses have had to close, Popoki + Tea is not just surviving, but growing,” she said.

While Popoki + Tea saw strong numbers over the holidays, Peralta adds that they faced many challenges to end the year. In December, they tackled one medical issue after another, had staffing issues, a leaky ceiling, and even a homeless man threatened to break their window. Add the pandemic to the mix, it was a lot to sort out for the sole business owner.

(Courtesy of Popoki + Tea)

“These are all typical business challenges, but hitting them all in the same month was extremely exhausting,” Peralta said. “Fortunately, we are now in January and again have a little breathing room to look forward to the new year.”

This year, the cat cafe is stepping up its offerings of workshops and small events, which fell off the priority list last year, and are looking forward to a big month in February where they celebrate their two years. Peralta shares that they are also preparing to hold their first movie night on Valentine’s Day.

Popoki + Tea welcomes up to 20 cats or kittens at a time in its living room, with an average of four to six adoptions per week. As cats are adopted, they bring new ones from one KAT Charities host family or their office. The cat cafe is now approaching its 400th adoption since it opened in 2020.

“As a company that facilitates cat adoptions on Oahu, which has a very large population of free-roaming cats, we place great importance on making responsible adoptions happen,” Peralta said.

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It’s a responsibility that motivates her to keep the doors open so everyone can feel the affection that comes with cat company.

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