KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Scruffy's Café in North Knoxville has muffins, brownies, coffee and a bunch of cats.
"Probably my favorite response, and it always makes my week, is 'this is cheaper than my therapy,'" owner Talisa Cantrell said.
Cantrell is a former counselor and said feedback like that is meow-sic to her ears.
"They always come back, and it makes me feel like I'm doing something right," she said.
Cantrell visited a cat café in Denver a couple of years back and was paws-itively hooked.
"I just had like this warmth, like this fuzzy feeling that kind of just sparked something in me and I had this moment where I felt loved and I felt it just was a really humbling and beautiful moment. I'm like, I want to recreate this in Knoxville. I want Knoxville to have this moment," she said.
Hundreds of people have had that moment over the past year since Scruffy's opened in June 2020.
They come in to grab a bite to eat and sit in a room with a collection of cats who are purr-fectly happy to have the company.
"It's really low lighting, there's a lot of jazz music playing. So I feel like the cats really do see this as their home, as a haven. I have it set up like a home back there. So it's like a social living room environment. So I feel like it helps the cats relax, really come out and be who they want to be until they get find their forever homes," said Cantrell.
Photos: Scruffy's Cafe, Knoxville's first cat cafe
Every cat at Scruffy's is up for adoption.
Cantrell partners with the Humane Society of East Tennessee, which is meow able to rescue more cats thanks to her help.
All the cats are fully vetted, microchipped, fixed and vaccinated.
"Any cat that you see here is like the rescue of the rescue of the rescue world," she said. "I've had some cats in the very beginning that had never been inside a building."
More than 230 cats have left the café with new owners.
"That's how cats work," said Cantrell. "They just kind of gravitate towards you. So you know when you're chosen."
You don't have to leave with a cat, and sometimes people have to paws and talk themselves meowt of it.
"I had to promise I wouldn't take any home," said one visitor.
New pet or no, people still leave with a sense of calm and a few new furry feline friends they can always come back to visit.
"It's a really open environment where the cats can play, interact and be comfortable being who they are and choose the person that they're most comfortable with," said Cantrell.
She hopes to make Scruffy's into a cat sanctuary and continue to adopt out cats to loving homes.
You can visit the café six days a week Tuesday through Sunday.
A small cover charge goes toward caring for the cats.