December 15, 2017

Webster graduate opens cat café

St. Louis entrepreneur and 2009 Webster University graduate Ben Triola is beset with a good problem – the curiosity that killed the cat is driving cat lovers to nearby Maplewood for a visit to Mauhaus Cat Café.

The feline-full café opened Nov. 12 and is very busy for an occupancy of 20 at a time.

“We’re usually about 90 – 95 percent booked for reservations on an average day,” Triola said.

During his time at Webster, Triola was both student and teacher. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in interactive digital media, he returned to teach history of video games and game-level design classes.

“I decided to stay with digital media because I thought it was more versatile,” Triola said. “I did want to teach and I love doing it but I had to stop because I just didn’t have the time.”

Since teaching, Triola and Dana Huth, long-time partner, have operated web and app studio Rampant Interactive and game developer Happy Badger Studio. The businesses operate above the café and also employ current Gorloks and an alumnae.

Alyssa Bennett, the entrepreneur who delivered baked pies with Pie Craft, graduated from Webster with a degree in advertising with a minor in professional writing and serves as kitchen manager at Mauhaus.

Daily specials are prepared in addition to the regular menu every Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“Every day, we have someone to come in at 6 a.m. and start baking,” Triola said. “We do sweets and savories. Every week, it pretty much exceeds our expectations. We make three pounds of hummus and we sell more.”

Triola said these fresh bakes do very well, but savory items like Italian cicchetti on house made bread are also popular with the cat-lounge crowd and walk-ins alike.

Mauhaus staffer and Webster game design major Richard Centeno started working for Triola in July 2016 as an assistant producer and community manager at Happy Badger for the studio’s Smugglecraft release. Triola taught Centeno’s history of video games class at Webster.

“It’s so great because you come into Mauhaus and it’s just a rush of positivity,” Centeno said. “You can pet cats and let some stress out, or come with someone you care about and share that experience with the cats.”

Mau

Cat cafés have been popular in Asia for the last twenty years. The first stateside café opened in Oakland, California in 2014. That year, Triola and Huth visited their first cat café in Bangkok, Thailand.

The 1,400-square-foot corner location on Sutton and Elm is divided into a café and lounge separated by a two-door “cat lock” – an airlock, but for cats – adjoining a wall of windows for walk-ins to sit, chat and see the cats. The separation between café and cats is primarily for food safety.

“That’s not something you’d see in the Asian cafes because they don’t really have the health codes. The café and the cats are in the same space. Cats will jump on a display case, it doesn’t matter, and it’s just how it is,” Triola said.

A wooden pillar in the center of the lounge is a staircase for cats, branching out into small walkways across the ceiling. An entire bookshelf along the far wall was built to suit the nosy felines and their human guests.

“In the U.S., pretty much every cat café has an hourly charge and, to me, it totally changes the experience – now, you feel like you’re restricted,” Triola said. “So with that in mind, we put a lot into the design of the space to make it effective, but pleasing and comfortable.”

Mauhaus charges $10 per-person as a tab toward food and drink purchases. Triola said the suggested hour-long visits are sometimes as little as thirty minutes, or up to an hour-and-a-half. The reservations are staggered so there are four slots every 15 minutes.

“If you’ve got a cat in your lap, it’s like, ‘Do we go? Or pay for another hour, or half-hour?’ People may just want to stay for another five minutes and if you can’t do that it’s awkward,” Triola said. “We didn’t like that and it is one thing we did differently than other U.S. cafés.”

Cats at Mauhaus are not just for petting. The café partners with Tenth Life Cat Rescue and the effort has placed nine felines in new homes. The nine cats roaming the lounge are adoptable and two, Taylor and Lorelei, are permanent residents.

“We have a few regulars who have adopted and we had to break many hearts telling people that Taylor and Lorelei are not adoptable because they are so personable,” Centeno said.

Walk-ins can stop by for café service at no charge. Go to mauhauscafe.com to book a reservation for the lounge.

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