About four years ago, Chuck Patton sold the advertising company he founded and then went searching for his next opportunity.
On a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, the Fort Thomas native who now lives in Louisville, found it.
It was a cafe where customers interacted and played with cats. If there was a notion, a customer could also adopt one of the cats thanks to partnerships with area shelters.
"They were completely booked. They had to reach to other counties throughout South Carolina in order to find cats," Patton recalled.
He decided that he would bring the concept to Louisville and now, for the past year and a half, Patton has operated A Purrfect Day Cafe.
"I had no idea what cat cafes were," Patton said.
But he does now, and the business has done so well in Louisville, where he moved after graduating from Western Kentucky University, that he is ready to open a second location.
Patton is returning to his native Northern Kentucky to open a second A Purrfect Day Cafe in downtown Covington, in the former Davon Auto shop on Eighth Street between Madison Avenue and Washington Street.
The decision to locate in Covington was spurred in part by the fact that his parents live next door to local businesswoman Donna Salyers in Southgate. The Fabulous Furs founder told Patton about the heightened development activity in the city, and so he went looking.
"It was amazing to me how much renovation was going on and how much investment was going on in Covington," Patton said.
Though the property had long been home to an auto service shop, Patton found the space to be both historic and perfect. "It scared the heck out of me, but the reality is, if you peel back that white stacked brick that is in the front of that thing, there is some major history hidden back there," he said. Patton hopes to bring the historic property back to life, renovating the main building and the carriage house.
When completed, some time in late spring or early summer, the 12,000-square feet of space will be home to his business and other entrepreneurs.
While the cat cafe will offer drinks, both coffee and alcoholic, along with some light food options, Patton also hopes that complementary businesses like a bakery or ice cream shop will rent one of the other available spaces in the completed building.
He stressed that the cafe portion of his business will be free from cats, and that the rooms where cats are interacted with will be walled off by glass. He also pointed out that there will be separate HVAC systems throughout so as to keep out cat dander.
"You go into the cat cafe itself and then pet cats, and have a drink, and just really relax and immerse yourself," Patton said. In the summer, there may be 25 kittens in a room. In the winter, more adult cats are expected to be on the premises, he said.
"It's such a unique space," he said. "Quite frankly, it's a little over the top."
Like in Charleston, there is a deeper purpose to the cat cafe business. Patton hopes to unite cat lovers with forever furry friends who can be adopted thanks to a partnership with the Kenton County Animal Shelter, which has been working to improve its once-high kill rate.
"It is a very unique opportunity. I think that we just continue to reach out and find new solutions to problems that our shelters are facing here," said Kenton County Animal Shelter director Beckey Reiter.
Reiter took over the animal shelter in Kenton County two years ago after serving in the same role in Boone County. Since her arrival and the adoption of new programs and strategies, far fewer cats are being euthanized in Covington.
Nearly a decade ago, nearly 75% of cats were put down at the Kenton County shelter, Reiter said. Now, she said, 90% leave the shelter alive. Reiter credits better advertising, programs like Target Zero, and better spay/neuter programs for the improvement.
"I would like to see our shelters empty," she said.
A Purrfect Day Cafe will help with that. The cats at the cafe will come from the shelter, and down the road, may come from other local shelters, too, Patton said.
Reiter spent some time at Patton's Louisville location to get a feel for the operation.
"I was a little apprehensive about cafes and cats. It didn't sound like a healthy combo," Reiter said. "I was so surprised by how well it's done. There is so much forethought in making sure it's healthy for animals and presentable for the customers."
In the past 18 months, Patton said that more than 2,300 cats have been adopted in Louisville through his business.
"Needless to say, it has been astronomically successful, not only from a business standpoint, but the number of adoptions we've done," Patton said. "It's not only a fun and unique place to be, but it's become a sense of pride in the city."
The atmosphere of a cafe is less stressful than that of a shelter for the cats, Patton and Reiter agreed.
"This is where they live and hang out all the time. They are in a big, open colony," Patton said. "They are relaxed. They are not stressed, and they are not in cages. It is a lot more pleasant way for them to live."
Reiter said that humans will also see a benefit to the interactions with cats.
"I had an opportunity to stay (in Louisville) for a few hours and watch the interaction, the families coming in, the individuals coming in," she said. "It's de-stressing for some people. There is actually a medical benefit as a stress reliever for some folks.
"We just feel like it's a win-win all the way around."
Reiter and her staff will have access to the cat cafe for regular and unannounced inspections to ensure the cats and the environment are being cared for properly, she said.
"The cats still belong to us," Reiter said. "We're going to train the staff on how to do the adoption. They will be an extension to the shelter. The more the public is involved with the homeless population of our animals, the more success we will have in our shelter."
As work on the building gets underway, one newer addition to the old Davon Auto shop - the community mural that depicts a map of Covington - will have to be removed, Patton said. He plans to commemorate it pictorially inside the building, and hopes to attract a new mural for the site down the road, he said.
He also sees opportunity to expand upon the new vibe emerging on Eighth Street where Libby's Southern Comfort attracts a loyal restaurant crowd and where Zapata, an additional restaurant, will soon open.
"It's just been unbelievably supportive," Patton said about his new Covington neighborhood. "I really feel like Covington was that unique kind of look and feel, just like where I am in the (Louisville) Highlands."