When Boris & Horton, New York City’s first dog cafe, opened last month, dog freaks like me were disappointed. Many expected something along the lines of the city’s cat cafes—establishments where a pack of friendly animals living on site are available for schmoozing and even adoption.
Alas, Boris & Horton is merely the next best thing, a “dog-friendly” cafe. It’s strictly BYOD.
Given the obvious superiority of canines to felines by every conceivable measure, why do we have three cat cafes in this town and nothing comparable for dogs? This feels deeply, existentially wrong.
Boris & Horton co-founder and president Logan Mikhly says she never considered opening a cafe featuring dogs-in-residence. Just launching a restaurant where customers can bring their own dogs was challenge enough.
The city’s health code doesn’t allow animals in restaurants. To comply, the founders remodeled a corner retail space in Manhattan’s East Village to include a cafe counter, a walled-off dog area with a separate entrance and a takeout window so patrons with pets can order from the sidewalk before bringing their food inside.
Boris & Horton has to employ a separate team to staff each space. They can’t even take used dishes from the dog area back to the coffee counter for washing. They have to use disposable plates and cups.
Boarding dogs on site would take the challenges to a whole new level. Given the crazy rents for space in Manhattan, for example, the slim profits on coffee and muffin sales could never cover the cost of sheltering pets.
That explains why, unlike Boris & Horton, the city’s cat cafes all charge admission fees. The nonprofit Brooklyn Cat Cafe, which bypasses city regulations by serving only packaged food and drink, for example, charges from $6 to $7 for a half-hour stay. Koneko on the Lower East Side charges $20 an hour for admission to the “cattery” in back, separate from the cafe area. Dogs need a lot more space than cats, of course, which likely would drive canine-cafe admission fees even higher.
Dogs also require more supervision, says
president and founder of Petzbe, a social-media app for pets. They’re more social with each other than cats, and “different levels of energy, temperaments, sizes and ages can make it difficult to know whether or not two or more dogs can safely interact, particularly in a space like a cafe.”
And while many cats are content with indoor living, dogs need several outdoor walks a day, says
director of animal behavior at the ASPCA Adoption Center in Manhattan. “All of these differences would need to be taken into consideration when attempting to open a dog cafe,” she says.
When all’s said and done, the pet-friendly cafe starts to look like a much smarter business model. Having customers supply the animals is like
getting its users to produce all the content. Indeed, Ms. Mikhly says roughly a third of the customers at Boris & Horton are patrons who don’t own a dog and come in to meet other customer’s pets.
Some even come just for the coffee. Inside, the space looks like any cafe, save for the wipeable vinyl cushions, dog beds and an easy-wash concrete floor. It serves standard fare for humans including avocado toast, and there’s a separate baked-goods counter for dogs where patrons can buy cookies and peanut-butter carob doughnuts.
I recently spent an afternoon at Boris & Horton with my Border Collie mix Minnie. It was a lively scene, what with the barking, the tourists, the constant cooing from the photo booth and a team from the TV show Puppy Bowl on hand, shooting a promo. Minnie sat under my table looking a little dazed, venturing out on occasion to seek treats and pats from fellow patrons. She got plenty of both.
We met a Poodle mix named Bandit, an American Eskimo Dog named Kai and a mutt named Rose. We also met a nice human named
Cherry Aw Young
who wheeled her Havanese, Lumpia, in on a baby carriage. She was treating the former show dog to a hard-boiled egg and the cafe’s $3 Louis XIV crispy ham cupcake.
They were celebrating. “She just got her good canine-citizenship accreditation” from the American Kennel Club for good behavior, said Ms. Aw Young, who was pleased with the dog cafe. “I didn’t think she’d pass, but she did.”
Ms. Mikhly says business is off to a strong start; she plans to open additional locations throughout the city. “People and dogs,” she says, “both get the concept.”
Write to Anne Kadet at [email protected]
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