The Happy Cat Hotel lets cats rule the rooms
Felines are the focus at The Happy Cat Hotel, where they enjoy luxurious accommodations in themed rooms such as Waikikitty, far left, and Costa Rica Kitty, middle.
A beachside bungalow or a balcony view overlooking the Eiffel Tower?
Perhaps reclining in an Egyptian pyramid sounds more appealing. Book a room in any of these destinations for only about $50 a night—if you’re a cat.
Accommodations at The Happy Cat Hotel are focused on the feline, with themed rooms such as Kitty Kabana, Weekend In Purris and Cleocatra among the choices. “We’ve been known to put a shrimp on the pillow,” says Chris Raimo, who co-founded the cat-centric concept in 2014 with wife Meg and earlier this year launched a franchise program.
“We run it like a hotel,” he continues of the concept with two locations open outside Hartford, Connecticut, the original Happy Cat Hotel & Spa in Windsor, and a second in East Granby that opened in July. “We have housekeeping, a.m. checkout and p.m. check-in, so housekeeping can go in and turn over each room for the next guest. … There’s a kitty concierge, someone whose entire job is to engage with the cats while they’re here.”
There are deluxe rooms and luxury suites (for the cat families), each with a range of amenities, or what Raimo calls “multi-dimensional spaces”—vertical climbing towers, elevated perches, cubbies for the cat that likes to hunker down or, in the case of the jazz-inspired Happy Cat Lounge room, custom piano key climbers and ramps.
“The rooms are designed to stimulate the cats,” says Raimo, and of course all the purrniture, er, furniture is made to withstand plenty of scratching.
Human customers, meanwhile, get daily text updates or can upgrade to 24-hour webcam access. And before you ask, yes, they can even add room service.
Growing up, Raimo says he was influenced by his mom, an animal lover who would bring in strays and talked to her kids often about being good stewards of all things flora and fauna. “I grew up learning how to be compassionate for animals,” he says. “We were the weird kids saying, don’t step on that ant!”
Meg, meanwhile, had been a groomer and dog walker, and before launching The Happy Cat Hotel the couple started Home Sweet Home Pet Care in 2007 and ran the house-call pet care service until they sold it earlier this year. (Surprisingly, the Raimos have just one cat, Bella, and two dogs, Nala and Althea, to go along with two human kids, Jude and Etta. “We’re not out of control,” says Raimo of their penchant for pets.)
It was their experience caring for the kitties in clients’ homes that got Chris thinking about a cats-only hotel.
“When we’d arrive in the home, we’d see their behavior, their depression, really,” he says of observing damaged furniture or cats refusing to use the litter box. “Or the opposite, they were climbing up our legs. They clearly were needing that affection.”
The success of the first Happy Cat Hotel in Windsor prompted them to open a second and then pursue franchising. “We were at capacity with the original location, we were turning business away left and right,” says Raimo, adding other cat hotels have started to pop up across the country, but there’s no national brand, a void Happy Cat Hotel aims to fill.
“This is a concept that’s just starting to catch fire right now,” he says. And because it’s a boutique hotel and spa conducive to longer stays (i.e., higher sales), franchisees don’t need to construct dozens and dozens of rooms.
“This model is built to be profitable without having to have, you know, 100, 150 kennels,” says Raimo. The Windsor location has 18 rooms, the East Granby has 12, and The Happy Cat also offers feline grooming and has a retail component.
The cost of a Happy Cat franchise ranges from $158,000 to $460,000, the higher end being for a hotel with about 50 rooms. Because it’s an owner-operator concept, Raimo says while financial qualifications and business experience are important, “our ideal franchisee is more like us.”
“Our people really just need to have that entrepreneurial spirit and want to learn,” he says, adding being passionate about animals is a “no-brainer.”
Interest has been high, he says, particularly from veterinarians and other pet industry professionals. “We have a saying: the dog days are over—cats are where it’s at.”