Last week, the owners of Austin’s Blue Cat Cafe confirmed the closure of their business, Austin’s first and only cat cafe on 95 Navasota Street. The cafe, where cat lovers could drink coffee and play with or adopt cats, became a point of major gentrification contention in the East Austin area since it opened in October 2015. It officially closed in November 2018, but owners claim to be “reopening soon,” according to their Facebook page. The managers also recently told CultureMap Austin that they are “awaiting peace” before they return. As of this week, 95 Navasota is still listed as off the market and the setup for the business, including the food truck and furniture, appear to remain in place. Here’s what Eater knows to date about the history of the cafe and its potential for return.
The cafe’s difficult past began back in 2015. Public outcry followed its landlords, Jordan French and Darius Fisher, who operated under the business name of Fisher & French Real Estate (F&F). F&F demolished the previous home of pinata shop Jumpolin, which sat adjacent to Blue Cat’s future address. Jumpolin owners Monica and Sergio Lejarazu said the building that housed their business was razed without any warning, though F&F disputed that claim.
Blue Cat Cafe founder and owner Rebecca Gray had been looking for a location since she raised $60K through Kickstarter in April 2015. She settled on the Navasota address, saying that she had no knowledge of the extent of F&F’s involvement with Jumpolin and the ensuing controversy.
Neighborhood community groups and activists called for a boycott because they didn’t want Blue Cat to open and pay rent to F&F. There was a protest during Blue Cat’s opening day, as well as various other protests and acts of vandalism. Local activist group Defend Our Hoodz formed as a result of this backlash.
After Blue Cat was vandalized on its first anniversary in October 2015, Gray appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show InfoWars to talk about the incident and the GoFundMe campaign she created to raise money for repairs. The appearance led to support from alt-right organizations, so much so that she quickly reached the campaign goal of $15,425. Gray claimed she didn’t know InfoWars was a conspiracy theory outlet. Still she told Texas Monthly that she was “happy to take money from people with hate.”
Then there was the involvement of Gray’s Iraq War veteran brother, Paul, a security guard who offered to help Gray handle the protestors. During a planned protest in June 2017 (over the potential filming of a Comedy Central television show at the cafe), Texas Monthly described a video captured of a “tense standoff” between Paul Gray with three people, one with a “baton,” and the protestors. The confront got physical to the point where one of Gray’s cohorts was bleeding, as reported by Statesman.
After the incident, the protestors found an interview between Paul and an alt-right podcast where he called himself a “far-right militant,” fueling the association between the cat cafe and the alt-right.
After all of this, Gray stepped away from running her business in June 2017, telling Texas Monthly that she was diagnosed with PTSD, related to the ongoing contention. While she remained an owner, she left the cafe in the hands of new managers, who she didn’t name in order to protect them.
Neither Gray nor the last managers of Blue Cat responded to Eater’s request for additional information. It’s interesting to note that while most of the reporting on the cafe has focused on F&F as the owner of the space, public records show that they sold the property in January of 2016. At that time Austin MM Holdings LLC, which is under French’s name alone, took over ownership of 95 Navasota. Then later, as of August 2018, Registered Agents Inc started servicing Austin MM Holdings and is also listed as a co-owner of the block of 1401 East Cesar Chavez (which includes 95 Navasota Street). This timing aligns with the hearing in a nasty-seeming lawsuit between French and Fisher. Austin MM appears to have folded on January 25 of this year due to tax forfeiture. Reached yesterday by phone, French would not confirm or deny to Eater whether the Blue Cat Cafe space is up for lease, but he did deny ownership of 95 Navasota.
In semi-related news, Defend Our Hoodz also has been protesting Austin restaurant Lou’s Bodega since it opened in January. Protestors object to its usage of the word “bodega” as well as Aztec imagery in its branding.
Stay tuned for updates on Blue Cat Cafe’s potential return and the fate of 95 Navasota Street.