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Cats, coffee and clothing: here’s what new D.C. cafes have to offer

Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor
Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor

Like other cafes in the District, Crumbs and Whiskers on 32nd and O streets allows customers to lounge on cushioned seats and sip coffee while pop music blasts in the background.

Unlike other cafes in the District, it’s home to around 20 cats that customers can pet, play with and even adopt.

Georgetown’s cat cafe, which opened in June, is just one of a handful of new D.C. cafes that has opened with more to offer than the average Starbucks — whether it’s a feline companion or an array of designer clothing.

Larry Yu, a professor of hospitality management in the GW School of Business, said that Crumbs and Whiskers, along with recently opened eateries Maketto, The Royal and A Baked Joint, mirror a trend of spaces trying to attract “niche markets” and build a loyal base of customers who return for that special experience.

“You would draw a particular type of consumer coming to your cafe that’s very unique,” he said.

Yu added that while the new cafes serve high-quality food, like scones and steamed pork buns, they also emphasize their environments as much as their menus.

“You get your hunger satisfied, but people now really seek experience,” Yu said.

Media Credit: Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor
Crumbs and Whiskers creates a calm, cute environment by offering free coffee and snacks to enjoy while cuddling up next to cats.

For example, Crumbs and Whiskers owner Kanchan Singh compared the cafe to the house of “your chic best friend who’s a cat lover.”

The bright space, decorated with string lights and cat-themed pillows, offers a selection of coffee, tea, cookies and macaroons. While the cats are napping, guests can also play board games like Jenga and Cards Against Humanity.

“The food cafe portion of it is more basic and the focus is more towards cats,” Singh said.

At Maketto, an open-air Asian restaurant on 13th and H streets that opened in April, customers can find a full coffee bar on the upstairs level and a retail market, which sells everything from $5 magazines to $700 shoes, on the downstairs level. Co-owner Will Sharp said that the concept is based on outdoor Asian street markets.

“It’s kind of this grand meeting place that really isn’t defined by any specific place per se,” he said. “It’s just kind of on the street so we took that idea and built it into an environment out here.”

While dining at a long, communal table in the airy garden patio, customers can choose from a menu that serves both classic cafe fare — like buttery $4 croissants — and Taiwanese or Cambodian dishes like the $15 wok-fried noodles.

At The Royal, a Spanish-inspired restaurant in the Shaw neighborhood, guests can sip lattes and snack on $3 flaky Nutella-filled pastries and $3 empanadas until evening happy hour, when the cafe transforms into a bar.

A few blocks away, on Fourth and K streets, A Baked Joint, which opened in June, doesn’t just feature a different menu than its sister store, Georgetown’s Baked and Wired. The minimalist, gray-and-white hangout offers more tables and warehouse-like open spaces, which operations manager Tessa Velazquez said is meant to encourage customers to stay and socialize while they eat.

Though A Baked Joint doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi, customers still work on laptops while drinking from oversized coffee mugs and listening to Drake’s “Know Yourself” blasting from the speakers. None of the customers nibbling on the $10 sandwiches seemed to be more than 30 years old.

A Baked Joint also boasts a selection of sweet pastries, like turnovers stuffed with raspberry jam and slices of cake similar to the cupcakes found at Baked and Wired.

Junior Thom Fusco, president of GW’s culinary student group Whiners and Diners, said that A Baked Joint is like an alternative study space.

“It’s a very up-and-coming, new-wave kind of thing, so it’s definitely trying to appeal to a younger crowd,” he said.

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