Unlike most cafés where one can recognise the gentle murmur of small-talk floating in the air with the sound of relaxing jazz, at Chhma Catfé, the first thing you would hear as soon as you open the door is meow, meow, meow – soft and pleasant in the way only a cat’s purr can possibly be.
Some sleepy cats have a good nap on glass tables or cushions, perhaps dreaming about receiving the best chin scratches.
While others pace back and forth in the café while others play with their peers. Isn’t this typical of what cats do when they claim a place as their home?
At the same time, the aroma of coffee wafting through the cosy air-conditioned shop prompts one to long for a cup or two of the brew.
A man dressed in a bright orange polo shirt with a cat logo on the left grins from ear to ear and greets customers with a broad smile and a gentle reminder: “Shoes off, please and come and clean your hands here”.
The staffer points to a bottle of hand sanitiser placed right at the order counter next to him. That’s a matter of routine at Chhma Catfé – reputed as the first cat café in the capital.
“We have around 23 cats in the shop including newborns, but now only 17 are here as some are sick, and some pregnant,” says Sovanda, the Chhma Catfé owner.
“The business concept comes solely from my love of cats. I have adored cats since I was a little boy,” he says. The 29-years-old says cats have always been his best friend and favourite pet.
Sovanda’s first-ever cat was a Scottish Fold breed named Jack. When the “catfé” concept was conceived nearly six months ago, he sought more breeds to add to his café.
“I came across many breeds on the Internet and ordered them. I did my homework so it’s easy,” he says.
Looking around for an example, Sovanda points to a long white fur cat lying on the floor.
“This one is from the US. We also have some from Canada, Russia, Scotland, Thailand and, not to be missed, my friends’ cats from Cambodia itself,” he says.
An ardent cat lover, Sovanda splashes his cash on the different breeds for a purpose. His main intention of bringing a variety of cats to his coffee shop is to give patrons a good insight into them. He says the breeds can go into the thousands.
“I want to give customers a chance to interact with animals like cats, hopefully, to inspire them to love animals in general, not just cats,” Sovanda says, beaming widely.
It has been two months since Catfé made its official debut, having drawn both local and foreign customers, most of whom are cat lovers.
Despite their growing numbers, Sovanda says his café has “a big challenge” to overcome if the business is to stay afloat in the fiercely competitive market.
“Unlike most coffee shops, at Chhma Catfé, making drinks is not a problem. The main concern is the cats.
“On one hand, I have cats whose health is so fragile. And on the other, I have customers whom I have to please as well,” he says.
To make sure he does not take the cats for granted and to ensure hygiene standard are maintained at his café, Sovanda has hired a veterinarian to provide regular health checkups for his feline friends. He even has a housemaid to take special care of them.
While the cats may have stolen the limelight, catfé beverages remain a draw as well.
A variety of drinks with a decent price range between $1.77 and $2.84 line the menu and are readily available for customers from 8am to 10pm.
Ever heard of a Cambodiano? “I include typical milk coffee in the menu, but at the same time, I want to spice it up a bit so I gave it a name – Cambodiano.
“It’s our most interesting drink, especially for foreign customers because they only know Americano,” Sovanda says.
Located right in the heart of the capital and just a stone’s throw from the National Museum, Chhma Catfé is soon to have a spot on the bucket list of cat-loving travellers from all over the world as well becoming a weekend getaway for locals.
Feeling relaxed with a sip of your favourite drink while listening to music with attention-seeking kittens cuddling you is something only hands-on experience can help one relate to.
“I love seeing my customers leaving our shop with smiles and joy. That just makes me feel so happy,” Sovanda says.