A Vermont café with coffee AND cats? You must be kitten me!

BARRE – Need a feline with your caffeine? A new café in central Vermont is there for you.

What is the place?

The Kitty Korner Café in downtown Barre serves coffee, tea, cider, soda and Vermont-made baked goods out of its North Main Street storefront, with plans to add breakfast items soon. The airy space offers seating for customers, and the café provides takeout service.

Oh, and the Kitty Korner Café also provides cats.

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Cats hang out at the Kitty Korner Cafe in Barre on Sept. 24, 2020.

Customers can order food and drink in the café and then be let in by an employee-controlled buzzer – “Very ‘Star Trek-ky,’” café owner Alexis Dexter said – to the cat room, where a handful or sometimes more than a dozen kitties purr, cavort and sleep throughout the day. Visitors can simply enjoy the company of the cats (and ideally, vice versa) or take them home. The cats come courtesy of the Central Vermont Humane Society, which adopts the animals out. (A dozen had been adopted through the café as of Sept. 25.)

What’s the story behind it?

Kitty Korner Cafe owner Alexis Dexter stands inside her Barre business Sept. 24, 2020.

As the cat mask and cat dress she wore Thursday morning indicate, Dexter is a cat person. She owns two felines that hang out at the Kitty Corner Café and another pair in her Williamstown home.

An idea Dexter’s boyfriend had to build a giant cat tree morphed into Dexter’s plan to create the Kitty Korner Café adjacent to the other Barre business she owns and operates, Forget-Me-Not Flowers and Gifts. Dexter is familiar with similar cafes – including one close to home, the Happy Cat Café in Montreal – inspiring her to open Vermont’s first cat café.

Because it was the first in Vermont, however, Dexter and state officials had to figure out how to open the café while looking out for the risk of allergies or contamination. That led to the set-up where customers order their food and drink in one room and can go into the cat room with their goodies if they so choose.

What’s it like opening in a pandemic?

Jessica Chenette of Moretown makes friends with Chunkatude the cat at the Kitty Korner Cafe in Barre on Sept. 24, 2020.

The Kitty Korner Café was ready for business in April. “The state shut down (restaurants) two weeks before we were going to open,” Dexter said.

That led to multiple financial hardships. Not only was Dexter paying rent on a café space she couldn’t use, she had to refund several flower orders at her shop next door because of wedding plans postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to do something,’” Dexter said. Once the state loosened restrictions on restaurants in July she made plans to open the Kitty Corner Café in August.

She said business has been “all right” but would be even better were state employees working in the state office building across the street instead of from home. She’s looking forward to Vermont further reducing restrictions on capacity in restaurants.

“We’re here, we have customers, that’s all I can ask for,” Dexter said.

Location and information

Alex LeBlanc, manager at the Kitty Korner Cafe, makes a cappuccino at the Barre business Sept. 24, 2020.

Kitty Korner Café, 214 N. Main St., Barre. 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday (and Sunday starting in October). (802) 479-1498, www.facebook.com/kittykornercafe.

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at bhallenbeck@freepressmedia.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.

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