For many, it was a fun, quirky, and entertaining take on your regular coffee shop: A café where you can spend some time with some friendly felines and enjoy yummy treats and a cup of joe.
But for Scott Fardella and at least 68 rescue cats – and the families that eventually took them in – it was a special place that offered a new lease on life.
For Fardella, it was a business that was a labour of love, one that married his desire to run his own business with that of working to promote local animal rescues and pet adoption. For the cats and their new forever owners, it was the place that brought them together.
Sadly, Fardella is no longer able to keep running the café that brought cats in need of love and cat lovers together. And it all comes down to one thing.
“We were doing well for quite a while, and all that happened was April and May were just two bad months. May, I can’t really explain it, but it was just a nose-dive month, and when you have two bad months in a row, you really can’t afford it, so… that was it,” Fardella explained.
“It’s expensive to run a small business,” he continued, noting that high rent rates in prime commercial areas compounds the issues often associated with starting a new business.
“And when you’re talking about a café… that’s a lot of cups of coffee to sell.”
For a year and a half, South Paw Cat Café, Kingston’s first and only cat café, acted as a place to go grab a coffee while on a lunch break in the city’s west end, as well as a place to go to meet with friends, or simply connect with the cats that called it home until their forever homes were found. Obviously, South Paw Cat Café was an important place for Fardella, the cats, and Kingston Animal Rescue, the organization Fardella partnered with in opening the café, and who brought rescued cats to the café for a chance to meet a prospective new owner and best friend. But, now that the café is closed, Fardella said the most striking thing for him has been finding out just how important South Paw Cat Café was to other people.
“It’s been overwhelming. The number of stories that are coming into me about what the café meant to people and all the different reasons why they came and… some of the stories were really touching,” Fardella said, seated at a table in the empty café space, his face visibly showing just how much these stories have impacted him.
“People are messaging me and telling me stories about times that they came in and I did something nice for them, or [about how] just sitting alone with the cats really cheered them up when they were having a tough time, at school or in a relationship or whatever… I didn’t know that it meant that much to so many people.”
But at the same time, he finds it all rather bittersweet, Fardella explained. There were a lot of people that travel fair distances to check out the café, and a lot of people who are now reaching out to Fardella to explain how their time at South Paw impacted them.
“It’s really hard to swallow that we did mean so much to so many people, and yet we still have to close, we’re still in this position,” he said.
Still, Fardella said he is proud of what he was able to accomplish with South Paw Cat Café, particularly finding new homes for nearly 70 rescued cats. People often asked Fardella if it was difficult to see the cats leave the café, but for him, it was more like watching them go home, he expressed.
“I had a lot of faith in Kingston Animal Rescue for finding good homes for them, so it was never hard seeing them go,” he said, noting that he did become somewhat attached to the cats who stayed at the café for months at a time – and that he did end up bringing one of the cats into his own home.
“Sometimes it was harder than others, but I knew that Kingston Animal Rescue did their due diligence as far as finding suitable homes… and two has always been my limit for cats.”
Seeing South Paw Cat Café’s days come to an end has been difficult for Fardella’s partner agency, as well.
“We loved partnering with Southpaw Cat Cafe. Having such a visible and passionate community partner had a positive impact on our adoption program,” said Alison Migneault, co-founder of Kingston Animal Rescue.
“We’re really sad to see their doors closed.”
So what’s next for Fardella? Definitely a break for a bit, he said, but not for too long. He’s already secured employment for the summer, and had some job offers in marketing. He’s also considering returning to his last vocation, working as an educational assistant for the Limestone District School Board, and definitely committed to keeping his podcast, Into the Void with Scott Fardella, going strong (you can check out the latest episode here, where Fardella talks with his friend and co-founder of Improbable Escapes, Melissa Eapen, about the struggles of running a small local business).
But no matter what, Fardella wants to use the social media following he’s generated to keep promoting local animal rescues, their events, and pet adoptions, he said.
“I think we still have a great opportunity to help get animals adopted,” said Fardella.
“And I don’t think this is the last time I’ll own my own business. I love the freedom and creativity that that allows for.”