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When Kanchan Singh announced she was opening D.C.’s first cat café, the District Department of Health was taken by surprise. “Why I didn’t know about this??? Do anyone knows about the risks [sic]?” Joxel Garcia, the department’s director at the time, wrote in an email to staff.

Several months later, what may have seemed inevitable to many finally happened: Georgetown’s Crumbs & Whiskers received a “summary suspension” of its operations on Sept. 11, DOH records show, owing to what Singh claims was a “temporary misunderstanding.”

Among the establishment’s nine “critical violations” were the lack of a D.C.-certified food-protection manager on duty during a two-hour inspection, conducting business without a “valid license” from the mayor, and “food being dispensed in an area containing cats, creating a high potential contamination due to cat fur/dander.” Six or more critical violations that can’t be fixed during a food inspection automatically results in a closure. The café is now open again for business, having complied with DOH regulations.

Singh explains in an email to City Paper that because Crumbs & Whiskers requires a cover charge, complimentary self-serve coffee and tea (prepared off-site by a partner café) were counted as food sales; thus, the establishment should have had “certain licenses that [it] didn’t have.” To correct this, Crumbs & Whiskers has returned to its initial model of charging separately for food and drink, and doing “live deliveries” (meaning no coffee or tea is being poured on-site) from its unnamed partner café.

“We immediately addressed the issues raised by DOH and were open again within two hours,” she writes. “Customers’ food will not be contaminated by cats because all food is prepared, handled, and packaged off-site. The DOH issue was ‘dispensing’: the act of a customer pouring themselves a cup of coffee/tea in a room with cats.”

DOH also cited the café for lacking an employee health policy on its premises, a “refuse bag containing cat litter” on the basement floor, and “cat hair throughout [the] establishment.” A Yelp commenter named Amber A. wrote in a comment on Sept. 11 that she “showed up five minutes early [for a reservation she had made] only to discover the shop had been shut down due to a health violation.” Amber adds that she didn’t receive advanced notice through an email or a phone call that the restaurant was temporarily closed.

Health concerns are appearing as cat cafés pop up across the country. On Wednesday, Time published an article under the headline “The New Coffee Shop Trend is the Cat Café.” It cited a report from Tuesday by the Orlando Sentinel concerning the soon-to-be opened Orlando Cat Café.

Crumbs & Whiskers is currently home to 20 cats; 32 cat have been adopted since the café opened three months ago, Singh says. There’s still a cover charge.

Photo by Jessica Sidman