From coffee to cats, this new downtown shop bets it can warm you up; Espurresso becomes city’s first ‘cat cafe’

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Brittanie Sinisgalli, a co-owner of Espurresso Cat Cafe, strokes one of the seven cats residing at the shop at 1014 Massachusetts St.

At the new downtown Lawrence coffee shop Espurresso, the java is popular, and, of course, is served in a cup. But it has a hard time competing with the shop’s most unique product, Syd, which often times is served in your lap.

As the name suggests, Espurresso is not your ordinary coffee shop. It is a “cat cafe,” and Syd is the resident cat. She draws plenty of customers on her own, and she doesn’t require sugar and cream to make you feel good all over.

“It is hard to go in there and not get a serotonin buzz,” co-owner Brittanie Sinisgalli said of a trip into the “Purrlor,” a separate room just off the cafe dining area where anywhere from four to seven cats live and play.

Syd is the only resident cat at the shop. The other felines come from the Lawrence Humane Society, and are available for adoption. Syd sort of serves as their host and tour guide while the cats hang out near their storefront window at 1014 Massachusetts St. Syd “aggressively” wants to be friends with everyone, a trait that may not always be appreciated by the other cats, but is nearly always loved by customers of the cafe.

“She loves to sit in people’s laps,” Sinisgalli said. “She’s pretty perfect.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A cat awaits its next visitor in the “Purrlor” room of Espurresso Cat Cafe on Nov. 29, 2023.

Sinisgalli and fellow co-owner Mary Costello are betting that they have found a perfect way to stand out in a pretty crowded Lawrence coffee shop scene. Espurresso is the only cat cafe in Lawrence, although the concept is becoming popular in many larger cities.

A cat cafe is not a place to come have a cup of coffee or a pastry with your own cat. Instead, customers come in and then interact with the on-premises cats in one of two ways. Customers can enjoy their food and beverage at a table just outside of the glass-enclosed “Purrlor” room where the cats nap, play, nap, climb, nap and well, you get the idea. The cats always stay in the Purrlor. They never are in the cafe or food area of the business.

Customers, though, can pay to enter the Purrlor room to play with the cats themselves. (I suppose you could nap, too, if you must.) Espurresso charges $10 for a 30-minute stay in the room or $15 for an hour.

Yes, people will pay to spend time with cats. The idea has been popular enough that the cafe has had to implement a reservation system, although it will accept walk-ins if a spot is available. Costello was pretty sure that would be the case. She has not only been a longtime cat lover, but also has been working for years on unique ways to support feline adoptions.

She previously ran a program called Mass. Street Kitten Academy, where she would design window displays for the downtown shops Wild Man Vintage and Love Garden Sounds, and then place foster kittens in those displays for a few hours per day to increase awareness of foster and adoption programs for cats.

Costello said she’s a strong believer that cats can encourage socialization skills, provide comfort when people are stressed and help reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation. There are plenty of people looking for some help in those areas. Plus, there’s an entire other set of customers who love cats but may live in an apartment that won’t allow them, or may live with someone who is allergic. It also could just be something different to do for a day.

“I think it’s a unique place with a fun atmosphere to take friends or family,” Costello told me via email. “It’s a place you can just grab a quick drink or delicious treat and support shelter kitties that way.”

People can adopt one of the cats onsite. Staff members of the cafe have been trained to administer the adoption screening process used by the Lawrence Humane Society. The cafe collects the standard adoption fees charged by the Humane Society, and then turns those funds over to the Humane Society.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Cafe customers stand outside the glass-enclosed room to watch cats play, climb and nap at the Espurresso Cat Cafe on Nov. 29, 2023.

As for the food and drink part of the business, Sinisgalli oversees much of those operations. The shop offers a variety of coffees, including pour-overs, lattes, mochas and more. It also has a selection of hot and iced teas, hot chocolate and lemonades, with a lavender lemonade being an early favorite among customers. The menu includes a few seasonal items, too, with a caramel apple spiced cider among the current offerings.

Sinisgalli also makes several treats for the shop. There are scones, cookies, muffins, biscotti and even kolache, a sweet, fruity, puffy Czech pastry. Then there are the “Pawp Tart” creations. That’s the shop’s take on the popular breakfast treats that have been popping out of toasters for generations.

Sinisgalli worked in the coffee shop business early in her career. While working at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, she began thinking about getting back into that world. She also had long been a cat lover. She was on a local social media forum when a fellow commenter asked when somebody was going to open a cat cafe in Lawrence. Sinisgalli said she would. Costello, at the same time, said she would too. That’s how Sinisgalli and Costello met, and they decided to join forces.

Sinisgalli had talked herself into doing the venture, saying she was ready for a “passion project.” Then, an all-consuming project came along: the pandemic. She was the office supervisor for the health department’s clinic when the pandemic struck. That was no time to open a business, and she felt she couldn’t leave the health department during that critical period.

“I answered many, many a phone call,” she said.

But as the pandemic passed, the idea for a cat cafe remained. Sinisgalli said the venture has not disappointed. She’s back to making coffee and baking, two of her personal joys, and the owner of a cat cafe comes with a lot of perks. (Notice how much restraint I showed by not saying “purrks.”)

“I’ve noticed that after a long or tough day at work, going in there, sitting down and letting them crawl all over you, it will make you pretty warm and happy inside,” she said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The coffee and pastry counter at Espurresso Cat Cafe, 1014 Massachusetts St., is shown on Nov. 29, 2023.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The “Purrlor” room of the Espurresso Cat Cafe houses anywhere from four to seven cats, on most days.


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