WRITTEN BY: ALLISON CHUDINA
If this semester has you feeling anxious or stressed, a new café in downtown Knoxville has the purr-fect pick-me-up.
Scruffy’s Café, located at 1015 N. Broadway, is the area’s first cat café. Scruffy’s hosts adoptable cats that intermingle with customers as they relax and enjoy hot beverages or food.
Talisa Cantrell, who owns the café, was inspired to bring Scruffy’s to Knoxville after visiting a cat café on a snowboarding trip last winter. She was at Denver Cat Company with her business partner, William Ridenour, when she realized how warm, personable and exciting the experience was. In that moment, she and Ridenour knew Knoxville deserved its own cat café.
Cantrell wants Scruffy’s to be a light for Knoxville’s inner city and a source of happiness for anyone who is struggling during these uncertain times.
“My mission was to rescue both cats and people,” Cantrell said. “I want you to leave Scruffy’s feeling lighter than when you first came in.”
Cantrell strongly believes in community togetherness as a way to heal and cope with hardships. This community enrichment was a big motivator for her to start the café in the first place.
“Community togetherness, to me, means being able to share closeness and happiness with others,” Cantrell said. “That happens a lot in this space.”
The Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley Authority was the first organization to reach out to Cantrell in the café’s early days, and they quickly became Scruffy’s sole rescue partner.
“The Humane Society goes above and beyond for cat rescue, and their friendship has meant the world to us,” Cantrell said.
Cantrell also credits the Knoxville community and local media for Scruffy’s fast growth.
“Without those pushes of encouragement and the interviews where I got to help Knoxville understand the concept of a cat café, we may not be here,” Cantrell said.
Scruffy’s Café did not happen overnight, however. Cantrell first began planning the specifics of the café in January of this year. In February, Cantrell officially registered as a business, and by March, she had found a building.
The original plan was to open the café in April, but due to the pandemic, she had to postpone Scruffy’s opening indefinitely. Luckily, in May, they were able to have a soft opening with reduced seating and safety measures in play.
“I did not ever anticipate being an entrepreneur, especially during such uncertain times, but I am happy that I get to be here for the community in this way,” Cantrell said.
Cantrell’s professional background in mental health has instilled a desire within her to help others, and she hopes Scruffy’s Café can do exactly this. She has worked in the mental health field both as a domestic violence counselor and sex trafficking diversion coordinator.
“I attain my greatest sense of healing by helping others heal.”
On a personal level, Cantrell is also a suicide, grief, abuse and trauma survivor.
“I do not mind sharing this in hopes that others do not feel alone,” Cantrell said.
Not only are people receiving cat therapy when they come to Scruffy’s, but they also can adopt adorable kittens in need of good homes. The café is responsible for the adoption of 102 cats so far, and the numbers climb higher with every passing week.
If people in the Knoxville community want to support Scruffy’s mission, Cantrell says they can donate money or buy wish-listed items for the kittens on the café’s website. Cantrell also encourages people to join Scruffy’s “Pawesome Volunteers” by applying online.
For other fellow young entrepreneurs looking to make their dreams a reality, Cantrell has a piece of advice.
“Pick up that composition book in the corner of your room and get to writing,” Cantrell said.
The key to Cantrell’s own success, she says, was taking notes and writing down ideas, phone calls and weekly goals for her agenda. She thinks it is crucial to protect your dreams and behave as if you only have a Plan A. She also stresses the value of surrounding yourself with friends and family who support your dreams.
“It is important to have a network who relates to your struggles and concerns and who will take time to celebrate your victories,” Cantrell said.
Looking to the future, one of Cantrell’s long-term goals is to create transitional housing for clients that combines traditional therapy with animal therapy in the same space. It would also operate as a rescue with the animals being up for adoption.
“I know from experience that animals can rescue people, too.”
Cantrell hopes to start a nonprofit organization soon so she can begin mapping out what this transitional housing will look like.
No matter how big Scruffy’s Café becomes, however, Cantrell says she will never leave the inner city behind.
“This area continues to speak to me and draw me in,” Cantrell said. “I want to reshape the inner city and make mental health a top priority there.”
Cantrell said she knows she is on the right path with this café.
“Knoxville needs people here in the city who care enough to try. I know I am one of many, and I know Scruffy’s will help me find others.” Scruffy’s has a $10 cover charge during the week and $12 on weekends, the proceeds of which go to the care of the cats. To learn more about how you can contribute to Scruffy’s mission, visit their website.