I was going to take the metro and head home for lunch when someone suggested we eat at the cat café. I changed my plans immediately.
A cozy cat café
That’s what Turin’s first and only cat café does to people: it draws you in, warms your heart, and convinces you to stay for an hour longer than expected. It’s called MiaGola, which means “meow,” and it’s located in an ideal spot in downtown Turin just a block west of the busy Via Roma.
What is a cat café? As you might expect, it's a little haven of cats lounging in the sun and asking, when they deign to notice you, to be pet. It is not the crazy cat lady’s house. The one in Turin, for example, has just six cats and, true to feline form, they’re not always interested in what’s going on. They prefer, instead, to do their own thing (lying in the sun and sleeping), though they accept attention gracefully.
Residents of MiaGola, Turin's cat cafè
Entering MiaGola feels like stepping inside a good friend’s home. The big windows let in plenty of natural sunlight, inviting you to sit at the casual, wooden tables and scratch cats’ heads as they lie stretched out in patches of warm sunlight. Strings of yarn are wrapped around the occasional chair leg, wall edges are padded in scratching pad material, and the black Yamaha piano in the corner can be played by anyone. It looks as though a piece of someone’s home was transferred to the center of Turin like Dorothy’s house to Oz, and that is exactly what the young entrepreneur and founder, Andrea Levine, wants it to feel like.
Combine what you know with what you love
Andrea is the passionate and professional founder and owner of MiaGola. “Dogs are more about activity and being outside, and cats are more about the inside comfort of home,” she says. Last year, she was inspired to create this cat café after something clicked in her head when she looked at her cat intently watching TV. Cats + technology = of course!
Andrea Levine, founder and owner of MiaGola, Turin's cat cafè
What was obvious to her may not be to us. But she put two essential pieces together: “This is what I know, and this is what I love.” She knew tech, as her professional background had her working at Cisco. She knew of the popularity of cat cafés around the world, in Paris, Tokyo, Austria, and all over the globe. And, if it’s not clear already, she loves cats.
MiaGola is more than a space with cats, a lovely atmosphere, and great food for a very reasonable price (lunch plate: first, second, side, and water for just €8.50 -- a meal shared with a new friend I met at Turin Epicurean Capital -- Paolo of Quatro Fromaggio and Other Disgraces on the Menu, who was also, excuse the pun but it will be the only bad one I ever write, the cat-alyst of the trip), although if Andrea had stopped there she could still call herself successful. She integrates her business sense and technology with cats and animals, using four big screens on the café wall. They project images and videos from local shelters and animal welfare groups with contact information at the bottom. WiFi is free and – unlike 90% of free WiFi in the city – works well and requires no password or login screen to use. That way, when people are inspired to learn more about the adorable rescue animals on screen, they will look it up right away. “When people go home, they’re going to forget about the email address or phone number, or have better things to do,” says Andrea. It is regrettably easy to get lost in a sea of interesting (or, let’s not kid ourselves, mind-numbing) links online.
Her ideas merged and, just five months after she started the café in March 2014, business is booming.
More than that, Andrea aspires to cat café conferencing with others from around the world. With the big screens, they could tune into other cafes and see the cats, the people, and the community, as well as provide an apparently fascinating form of entertainment for the cats.
Cats: The great unifiers
The sense of welcome, of conversation, and of a small, comfortable sense of community is palpable when you enter MiaGola. Much of that comes directly from the cats. “We live in a society that wants us isolated,” says Andrea. It’s the smartphone syndrome. Instead of looking up at the world, we’re thumbing through one more game, article, or facebook picture, taking part of these virtual groups ironically called online “communities” and missing the moment to see, chat, or just to muse silently. Coming into this café melts away your isolation. This is no traditional Italian bar where you grab your caffé macchiato, down it asap, then fly out of there. This is for hygienic reasons, as the kitchen must be distinct and separate from the cats’ territory; but the results are absolutely in the spirit of the place. Instead, you must sit for a caffé. Andrea says she finds that most people who were in such a hurry when they came are usually those who were unaware of the furry friends inside. Upon discovering that, they invariably find time to sit there for half an hour, an hour, or more.
It is easy to pass time there. There are bar stools, wooden chairs, and a cozy mismatch of tables: tall, round, square, and one long, rectangular table. It’s a conversation table. Any single diner will feel totally at ease sitting down to pet a cat and begin talking about theirs at home with a perfect stranger. Cats, here, are the great unifiers.
“Animals help remind us we’re social,” says Andrea. Not online social, but truly, physically, there social. And while cats here are the great unifiers, food and the convivial act of sharing a meal are the timeless acts that, across cultures, bring people together. Combine these two, and it’s magic.
“I see smiles here all the time,” says Andrea, smiling herself. “Kids come in with cat shirts on, and there’s this anticipation in coming here.” MiaGola is open six days a week, closed on Mondays. “It’s when the cats read their mail, I tell kids, and they love it.” They draw cat pictures and leave them in the old-fashioned mailboxes on the walls. Every week, people come and leave objects and cat books, from kids’ books to historical books, which are left on the tables for browsing.
In fact, the place is very kid friendly. Not only do they offer language conversations (for adults, too, of course!), but she hopes to transform the loft into a corner where kids, these city kids with their noses in their phones who gets few chances to pet a real animal, can learn about animals.
Before leaving, make sure you peek at the cat boxes lining the walls – look closely, and you may see ears poking out from the tops.
Via Giovanni Amendola 6D, Torino
Hours: Tues.-Fri. 9 am - 8 pm | Sat. 9 am - 9 pm | Sun. 10 am - 9 pm | Monday closed
I love Piemonte’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps! My goal and challenge is to see as much of the region as possible using public transportation, but if you have a car I’d appreciate the ride. My intro to wine was at the Univ. of Gastronomic Sciences, and I love visiting family wineries, plus discovering Piemonte's craft beer scene. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite wine, but Nebbiolo never disappoints (from Barbaresco to Ghemme). As for beer, the Birrificio San Michele makes an incredible beechwood smoked brew.