HONOLULU (KHON2) — When Liberty Peralta decided to open a business she hoped would ignite a love for cats in the community, little did she know that a global pandemic would come barking at her doors, which temporarily closed after they opened on Feb. 13, 2020.

The cat cafe in Kaimuki provides a cozy refuge for folks who want to get away from the everyday stress and grind. At Popoki + Tea, people can chill with adoptable cats while enjoying milk tea or coffee. The business closed for six weeks from late March through June when the pandemic hit.

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“The lost revenue was scary,” said Peralta, founder and owner of Popoki + Tea. “We were still doing adoptions by private appointment only, so we were at least able to still continue our mission. But since June 2020, we’ve been seeing steady growth.”

Peralta adds that aside from the occasional request to reschedule or cancel a visit because of COVID-19 exposure or positivity, they have fortunately been minimally affected by the pandemic.

“It might be because we offer a unique, intimate and relaxing experience that allows guests to escape ‘the real world’ with our cats,” she explained. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we experimented with virtual experiences, but nothing beats actually being in the company of the cats.”

As a business owner, Peralta said the pandemic emphasized how small her team is and the need for more staff. She says a big lesson learned from last year was to plan ahead for holiday staffing.

Popoki + Tea fosters up to 20 cats or kittens at a time in their lounge. (Courtesy: Popoki + Tea)

“We did well during the holidays, but at one point, it was only me and our full-timer that were on the schedule, and we’re just recovering from the burnout from that,” said Peralta. “We’re still a new business and are learning a lot every day.”

The cat cafe just recently hired a part-timer and may be filling a full-time position soon.

“I’m thankful that in a time when many businesses have had to close, that Popoki + Tea isn’t just surviving, but growing,” she said.

While Popoki + Tea saw high numbers during the holidays, Peralta adds that they were dealt with many challenges to end the year. In December, they tackled one cat medical issue after another, had staffing issues, a leaky ceiling and even had a homeless person threaten to smash their window. Add the pandemic to the mix, it was a lot for the lone business owner to sort out.

(Courtesy: Popoki + Tea)

“They’re all typical business challenges, but having them all hit in the same month was extremely exhausting,” said Peralta. “Fortunately, we’re in January now and have some breathing room again to look ahead to the new year.”

This year, the cat cafe is ramping up their workshop and small event offerings, which fell off the priority list last year, and is looking forward to a big month in February when they celebrate their two-year anniversary. Peralta shares that they’re also getting ready to host their first movie night on Valentine’s Day.

Popoki + Tea fosters up to 20 cats or kittens at a time in their lounge, averaging four to six adoptions a week. As cats get adopted out, they bring in new ones from a KAT Charities foster or from their office. The cat cafe is now approaching its 400th adoption since opening in 2020.

“As a business that facilitates cat adoptions on Oahu, which has a very large free-roaming cat population, we place a heavy weight on ourselves in performing responsible adoptions,” said Peralta.

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It’s a responsibility that motivates her to keep doors open so that everyone can experience the affection that comes with being in the company of cats.