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Business Spotlight: Feline First

Mochas and Meows is SWMO’s lone cat cafe

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 Mary Trexler’s business plan that hatched while she pursued an online bachelor’s degree in 2019 served as the genesis for Branson cat cafe Mochas and Meows LLC – a unique concept in a town filled with its fair share of unusual ventures.

Trexler, who owns six cats, says the 2-year-old business serves a dual purpose. It’s both a coffee shop and a cat lounge that fills separate spaces in the Falls Shopping Center.

“I’ve done this, but I’ve just been a vessel,” she says. “From day one, this has been a God thing.”

Mochas and Meows is among five cat cafes in Missouri, with the next nearest in Columbia, according to Springfield Business Journal research.

Coffee is supplied by Iowa-based Java House Coffee Roasters, and the shop’s menu features espresso drinks, and herbal, boba and hot teas, as well as fruit, peanut butter and dessert smoothies. Food options include smoothie bowls and pressed sandwiches dubbed “purrninis.” To play up the cafe’s feline influence, the menu has several cat-oriented product names, such as the Ameowicano and Catpuccino.

Lounge activity
In the next-door cat lounge, which is visible from inside the cafe, 20 free-roaming cats were either playing, sleeping or getting attention from visitors on a recent November day. All cats, aside from two owned by Trexler, are available for adoption via Branson-based Shepherd of the Hills Humane Society. The lounge allows customers to hang out with the cats for a cover fee of $4 for 15 minutes, $6 for 30 minutes or $10 for an hour.

While the Humane Society keeps roughly two-thirds of every $150 adoption fee, Trexler said all lounge fees go to Mochas and Meows.

“Those cover our overhead. Since we’re a for-profit business, not only do I pay rent on both units; I pay the utilities in each unit,” she says of the combined 2,500 square feet she leases from J.W. Franklin Co.

All cats up for adoption stay a minimum of a week to become socialized. Trexler says the socialization makes the cats more likely to adjust to other pets and family members when introduced into a new home. The Humane Society covers all veterinary expenses, while Mochas and Meows largely depends on donations to cover supplies of food and cat litter.

Adoptions have reached near 120, Trexler says, adding she’s adopted three of the cats. One of them is Miles, the cafe’s unofficial mascot, who appears on the shop’s window and its four billboards.

She estimates it’s a near-even split in revenue for the lounge, food and drink service and miscellaneous retail sales, which include branded merchandise, such as T-shirts and hoodies.

“We’re within $10,000 for the year in each category,” she says of projected 2021 revenue, declining to disclose totals. “We’ve had a lot more growth than I expected. We learned a whole lot in a very small amount of time. We’re up at this point 82% from last year.”

Part of the unexpected growth has stemmed from the number of locals who visit. Upon opening, Trexler expected most of her business would come from Branson-area tourists. Instead, she estimates it’s about a 50/50 split.

“I tried to structure all the pricing with the locals in mind,” she says. “I could jack up the prices and make more money, but I’d be alienating the local clientele.”

One of those local customers is Christine Riutzel, who’s operated her own art business, Beauty From Light LLC, since 2017. Riutzel estimates she’s painted roughly 70 murals, mostly in the Branson and Hollister area. That includes a distinctive one that takes up a back wall in Mochas and Meows.

Riutzel recalls telling Trexler, “I really want to support you in the only way I can, which is through art.”  The two did not know each other prior to the cafe opening. “So, I proposed doing a free mural for her business,” adds Riutzel.

Her artwork of cats in random activities  – singing and as a NASA astronaut, for instance – plugged in personal touches to incorporate some of Trexler’s interests, such as her love of the Kansas City Royals and comedian David Spade.

“That’s inspired me to do more community work, which has led me to work with the city of Hollister and the city of Branson,” Riutzel says of the cafe mural.

On the horizon
Trexler’s connection to the local Humane Society will soon extend outside her cafe’s walls.

A new coffee shop location, dubbed Pawfee Break by Mochas and Meows, is planned for the Shepherd of the Hills Humane Society building in Branson. It’s set to share space currently occupied by the agency’s thrift store, Trexler says, estimating it will fill 550 square feet. She says the building is undergoing a full remodel with her infill to be the final part. She expects it to open in fall 2022.

“It won’t have any food items, only the drinks – and we’ll keep the cats here,” she says.

After spending five years as a stay-at-home mom until 2019, Trexler admits a cat cafe wasn’t the most logical choice for a first-time business venture.

“They thought then what they think now, which is that I’m a lunatic,” she says, laughing about family and friends’ opinions of the concept. “But somehow it’s working.”

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