Photo courtesy of NEKO: Unsell with her cat, Jamil.
Photo courtesy of NEKO: Unsell with her cat, Jamil.
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More than a year after Caitlin Unsell set out to create a cat cafe in Capitol Hill, NEKO is now slated to open on East Pine this summer.

“I was dead-set on Capitol Hill,” Unsell said, “and every broker I worked with tried to get me into other areas.”

Then she found 1,022 square feet of old office space at 519 E. Pine St., across from the AVA Apartments. A contractor is lined up, Unsell said, and permits have been submitted with the city of Seattle and Public Health-King County & Seattle.

When Unsell went to live in Sapporo, Japan for two years, she said she knew she would be missing her cat, Jamil. She was excited to see some of the country’s many cat cafes.

“As soon as I got there, I could not wait to check them out and, of course, I fell in love,” she said.

She was working with a Japanese friend, talking about her desire to open a cat cafe. Neko is Japanese for cat.

“It just sort of popped on NEKO,” Unsell said. “Because I was inspired by Japan, I wanted to have some kind of Japanese influence.”

When she’d left for Japan, there were no cat cafes in the United States.

There were around 10 in the country when she returned, she said.

Unsell launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in late 2015, with  investors being offered perks like attending the opening “paw-ty” or being named on the “Wall of Fame.” At $14,000, it fell short of the goal, but Unsell said it was still good for NEKO.

“It was a success in my eyes, because we got so much positive feedback from it,” she said, “and I think it got the community really excited about it.”

Customers entering at East Pine will find a cafe in front of them, with the “Catarium” to their left, Unsell said, the separate space where adoptable cats will hang out. Customers can grab a coffee, juice, beer or wine in the cafe — with a Japanese-inspired small bite — and then join their feline friends in the Catarium.

NEKO will close early on Mondays, Unsell said, so people can pick up adopted cats, and new cafe residents can get acclimated to their surroundings.

“That’s the main reason behind NEKO,” she said, “to get as many cats adopted as possible.”

The cafe and Catarium will be separated by large glass walls.

“We want you to always feel like you’re in the presence of cats,” Unsell said, adding, “There’s going to be lots of perches, so they can always peek out. It will definitely be a cat paradise.”

There will be a back room to the Catarium for cats to take a break from being in the spotlight or take a nap, Unsell said. She’s still finalizing an agreement with a shelter partner, and also nailing down a coffee supplier; both will be local.

If all goes well, Unsell said NEKO could open in mid-summer.