Upon introduction by Ms. Donna Tang, an interview with Mr. Gao Changkuan 高长宽 affords us a look inside the Cat Village 猫里屯 (Maolitun).
This pet shop was founded back in 2001, and belonged to the first batch of pet shops in Beijing, and was one of the few still operating at the time. The people behind the business really wanted to make it more comfortable and cozy, but the space was limited, therefore they’ve always wanted to expand to a place with more space. At the time they created a Weibo page for Maolitun under the same name.
When asked about the difference between Maolitun and other cat cafés in Beijing, Mr. Gao modestly said that there’s not much to say in terms of differences. He observed that whether it’s a cat themed café or a coffee themed pet shop is really ambiguous, and that there’s no clear distinction between the two. Since cats, books, and coffee as a combination is kind of a global trend that has been perfected, whether you see it as a western influence on modern Chinese culture, or a mainstream trend, it just creates a calm and cozy scene for people to realize, he commented.
Cats already have a relaxed posture; they look at ease, not in a hurry. For people living in a bustling city, this graceful and languid demeanor embodies something they desire—a slow life, said Mr. Gao. He said Maolitun is very careful when it comes to hygiene, to making sure the cats and the eating area are separate, so that customers will not be disturbed by the cats while eating or conversing, and the cats will also not be disturbed by the people. Although in the same building, the pets and the customers are generally separated, but if someone likes cats they can go into the relevant section and interact with them, but the food preparation is strictly separate from where the animals are.
It’s also something modern-day pet owners in the city should be aware of—not getting into each other’s space, he commented, it’s more natural this way, because cats have their preferred environments and living habits, and people have their daily work schedules and internal clock that’s different, so the most perfect scenario is one where cats and humans sharing a living environment don’t get in each other’s way.
Maolitun has over ten cats here, according to Mr. Gao. Every cat has a different personality, and there is a range of ages. Almost all of the cats are female because they’re gentler and get along better with each other and as well as with the customers, and don’t fight as much as male cats. They’re fed cat food, canned foods, and additional supplements.
Technically speaking, there is only this one establishment under this name, said Mr. Gao, Maolitun hasn’t been in a hurry to expand, because they wanted to focus on this one establishment and really connect with the local community. Still of course, they are always open to new opportunities for development and collaboration if they should come up. Maolitun doesn’t provide veterinarian services, it’s mostly just feeding and grooming. They stock some pet’s supplies focusing mostly on cats and dogs but also some other smaller pets.
When it comes to style, Mr. Gao describes Maolitun as post-modernist, pretty down to earth and practical, more western, and incorporating some pet-related philosophy and influences as that’s what the establishment considers one of their most important characteristics—a pet-centric focus.
Maolitun is always trying to develop new dishes and foods, said Mr. Gao. They’re working with a Michelin 3 star head chef and interested in trying to get new foods out because that’s also part of their philosophy. They experiment with Southeast Asian food, Chinese food, Western European food, and Italian food. Because of the focus on innovation, it’s sometimes hard to characterize their dishes into existing cuisine styles and categories, said Mr. Gao. Additionally, Maolitun also has a lot of drinks that they come up with themselves, and they have different selections depending on the season.
A lot of the books at Maolitun are purchased online and brought back from travels. They’re mostly focused on readers fond of or interested in pets. They don’t allow people to take the books out, but customers can read them at their leisure while they’re there as long as they do not damage them. Maolitun sometimes host events in collaboration with other organizations and clubs. They have a large screen, a projector, and a sound system, and allow organizations and clubs to rent their space for their events such as press conferences. Because they were founded as a pet store, Maolitun allows customers to bring pets in, but they have to make sure they have no contagious diseases and are not hostile. If there are multiple families bringing their pets and they’re not familiar with each other they try to have them stay in different sections of the building.
There aren’t really any age limitations when it comes to visiting children. As long as the children are well behaved and won’t interact with the animals in a harmful way then it’s okay. For younger children the parents should hold them and it’s better for parents to always keep watch of them when they interact with the cats.
In terms of the future direction of Maolitun, Mr. Gao said that what they have now is a rough skeleton, and they want to fill that in. They want to make this experience richer, and make it suit more consumers and connect to more like minded individuals, to attract more people to come and share their experiences with each other. Mr. Gao observed that the entertainment industries and pet industries are exploding with information these days. They want to really connect with the community.
Mr. Gao said that since twenty years ago to today, it’s always been Ms. Tang’s business strategies keeping the whole thing going, but he said this business also has a great significance for him personally. Ever since he was little, Mr. Gao has liked plants and animals, and he says that as he grows older he finds himself wanting to focus on doing what he really likes, which is why he got involved with Maolitun.
The Cat Village 猫里屯
Caobagongshe, 300 Caochangdi Art District, Chaoyang District 朝阳区草场地艺术区300号草吧公社内 (6431 8366; 130 0118 0033)
Images courtesy of WeChat user donna唐丁丁 and WeChat official account 猫里屯 The Cat Village