A café where locals can enjoy a coffee in the company of friendly rescue cats needs a house buyer and crowdfunding to help it climb to new heights.
Ken and Richelle Okada, owners of Neko Ngeru, previously located in Petone, have bought a two-storeyed commercial building in central Lower Hutt to house both them and their family of rescued cats.
The ground floor of the landmark building on the corner of High and Margaret Streets is already leased out to Café Soleil (whose Spanish owner offers Mediterranean-influenced delicacies) and the first floor will be home to the rescued cats and their caretakers, Ken and Richelle.
Hit by housing market downturn
But a downturn in the local real estate market combined with building alteration delays have the couple appealing to Kiwis for help through crowdfunding (and for a house buyer).
Richelle says crowdfunding will help fund turning the upstairs office into an “amazing” space to relax with cats.
There will be lots of cat climbing furniture and hiding places on the walls and ceiling, an exercise wheel, a “catio” (covered and screened-in deck), magnetic locking system on the doors, and comfortable places for the humans to lounge and play with the cats.
Financing the project was calculated on the expectation that Ken and Richelle could easily sell their home in Korokoro, Petone. But when they put their home on the market in November 2021, the market was suddenly flooded with many properties, few buyers could get banks to finance them.
Months of empty open homes, with assurances that the other sellers were having the same problem, have gone by.
Japan trip to get savings
With the settlement date looming, Ken returned to his native Japan to transfer money saved there. Due to tighter rules, some of it could not leave Japan and what could, was lessened by an unfavorable exchange rate, says Richelle.
She says they lost about 10 percent of their savings by transferring but it could not be helped. The settlement payment due on March 31 could only be partially met and default interest kicked in.
They are working to get a high-interest loan but at least it will be better than the 12 percent they are obligated to pay right now. For the moment, the vendors are being kind, but it is too much to ask them to wait forever, Richelle says.
She says it seems like some long-awaited construction will be happening “soonish”. The consent to upgrade the ground floor with firewalls and install another toilet has been granted after four months.
The seismic report that was started in November came through in April. Many building companies were contacted but all were too busy. Finally, a building company owner looking for inside work for the winter was tipped off to the project by his daughter who follows Neko Ngeru’s Facebook page.
But Richelle says that’s only for the ground floor and the consent application for the upstairs cat cafe is in process.
Richelle says that although the upstairs cat café won’t be ready for a while, “the downstairs tenant, Café Soleil, has been established as a great place for delicious food and coffee.
Mediterranean flair for ground floor café
“Coming originally from Spain, owner chef Christine puts a Mediterranean flair into her culinary creations. The tortilla Española is a classic. When the upstairs cat café is done, food and drink can be brought upstairs to enjoy with the cats.”
It was a love of cats that inspired Richelle and Ken to travel halfway around the world to set up a new business based on Japanese cat café culture.
They began the café in late 2017. Its name reflects the Japanese and Māori words for cat.
The couple had expected many of their clients would live in housing unsuitable for pets.
While these were a significant portion of their clientele, many people visited because they wanted to adopt a cat.
A surprise was the significant group of cat-loving visitors who couldn’t adopt because they already had pets but enjoyed meeting more cats.
People also visited the café to get inspiration from the cats’ play equipment there.
But in 2021 the couple gave up the lease on their Petone building and found homes for most of the cats.
Because many of their customers travelled out from Wellington city the couple spent months looking for a suitable site in the capital where they could combine the cat café with their own home.
Eventually they turned their eyes back to the Hutt Valley and bought the High Street building.
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To find out how you can help Neko Ngeru make the cat café “Pawsome” go to Pledgeme
You can read our original 2020 story about Neko Ngeru at: