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Popoki + Tea cat cafe opens its doors in Kaimuki

  • Video by Cindy Ellen Russell and E. Clarke Reilly

    Popoki + Tea, a new cat cafe in Kaimuki, opened its doors on Thursday.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Popoki + Tea, a new cat cafe in Kaimuki, had its grand opening on Thursday with a Cat-lentine’s Day celebration.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Popoki + Tea, a new cat cafe in Kaimuki, had its grand opening on Thursday with a Cat-lentine’s Day celebration.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Popoki + Tea, a new cat cafe in Kaimuki, had its grand opening on Thursday with a Cat-lentine’s Day celebration.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Popoki + Tea, a new cat cafe in Kaimuki, had its grand opening on Thursday with a Cat-lentine’s Day celebration.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Popoki + Tea, a new cat cafe in Kaimuki, had its grand opening on Thursday with a Cat-lentine’s Day celebration.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Popoki + Tea, a new cat cafe in Kaimuki, had its grand opening on Thursday with a Cat-lentine’s Day celebration.

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Popoki and Tea, a new cat cafe in Kaimuki, opened its doors Thursday evening to two sold-out, 75-minute sessions. Enthusiastic cat fans filled the bright, cozy space on Waialae Avenue while about a dozen cats sized up the humans who were eager to offer rubs and chin scratches or an enticing toy.

Owner Liberty Peralta partnered with KAT Charities, a foster-­based animal rescue organization, which provides the cafe with healthy, socialized cats ready for adoption. And for the time being, her focus is on adult cats. “The ones that have a hard time getting adopted,” she said.

When someone does want to adopt a cat from the cafe, Peralta wants to keep things as organized as possible while ensuring the environment for the kitties remains calm and stable. There will be a regular designated day adopted cats will go to the “fur-ever” homes and new cats will come in; there won’t be any same-day adoptions.

Since signing the lease in July, Peralta said it’s been a long process to get to opening day — perhaps a bit like herding cats.

>> Photo Gallery: Popoki + Tea cat cafe holds grand opening in Kaimuki

“It’s really exciting,” Peralta said. But she said, “it’s been a practice in patience and grit, and learning when to pivot,” referring to starting a new business and all of the hurdles she’s encountered along the way. (For example, initial plans included a kitchen in the cafe, but she realized it would be more prudent to outsource refreshments than try to build a separate kitchen.)

Where does the “tea” part of the name come in? Peralta collaborated with neighboring businesses to provide prepackaged drinks and refreshments. She said there will be milk teas and iced tea available for purchase. And on weekends, The Curb Kaimuki will be creating some cat-themed caffeinated drinks — exclusive to Popoki and Tea. The We Heart Cake Co. are the bakers behind the adorable (and tasty) cat cookies.

Peralta gives a special nod to the community of local businesses that helped to support her on her path to see Popoki and Tea become a brick-and-mortar reality.

“It’s a testament to Kaimuki specifically,” she said. She introduced her idea for the cat cafe at a meeting for local business owners. “Everyone lit up and was so supportive. To have a community like that, who know the struggle of running a business. … I’m excited to be working with my neighbors.”

Peralta’s own cat, Mara (who is a rescue and “purr-resident” and CEO of Popoki and Tea), also served as inspiration for her vision of the cat cafe.

“My dad didn’t like cats,” she said. But Mara came to live with him via a friend of her father’s who had owned Mara.

“He fell hard for Mara, and now has a cat of his own,” she said. “One animal changed him. If I can do that, I feel like it would do so much for the community … if people can change their minds.”

The cafe’s Valentine’s Day date night tonight is already sold out, but there are plenty of openings left during the long Presidents Day weekend.

To ensure you get a spot at Popoki and Tea, Peralta encourages people to book in advance, as walk-ins might not be accommodated during busy times. For bookings, go to popokiandtea.com.

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