Will be owner of Pittsburgh's first cat cafe, inspired by her travels and her love for cats
Shaler Area graduate Indigo Baloch has been very busy since her graduation in 2012. Between being involved in a multitude of clubs at Chatham University and having several “out of this world” experiences, Indigo is also in the process of opening Pittsburgh’s very first cat cafe, The Black Cat Market, and plans to graduate from Chatham University this spring.
Before enrolling at Chatham, Indigo took a “gap year” and traveled to Romania, a trip sponsored by the Rotary Foundation, to learn Romanian and attend conferences and events.
However, Indigo’s experience did not go quite as planned.
“I got kicked out of Romania. I didn’t know it could happen but I did it,” she said. “(My host) family would leave for days and that was one of the reasons I asked for a new host family.”
She got in touch with the Rotary Foundation in United States to request a new host family, but she didn’t realize what that would lead to.
“The dad of the family that I was with was in charge of the Rotary. He came home one day and said, ‘If you don’t like my family you can leave the country. You have a week to leave.’” Indigo said.
After being kicked out of Romania, Indigo enrolled in Chatham University to study Creative Writing.
However, when Indigo began her freshman year, she went back to her journalism roots and soon held a high leadership position.
“Second semester of my freshman year I took over the paper, [while] we were in the middle of transitioning to not only print, but also online. That took over mostly the next year of my life. Then, last year, I took over “Her Campus” which, if you’ve heard of it, is kind of similar to Buzzfeed with online content like that, but it’s especially directed towards women. It’s a lot of beauty articles and things like that, but also my own team and I like to do a lot of social issues as well. So, I took that over, and I also started “Odyssey Community at Chatham”. I did both of those last year, then passed on “Odyssey” to somebody else, and I’m still running “Her Campus”,” Indigo said.
Indigo’s schedule did not lighten up over that summer because she was able to intern for “WHIRL”.
“The summer after my freshman year I got an internship at “WHIRL” magazine, which was really great. I was doing fashion editorials, and let me tell you, there is nothing like being able to walk into any store and say, “ I want that, that, and that, bag it up!”” she said.
Her experiences while working at “WHIRL” proved to be more beneficial than just a quick summer internship.
“My sophomore year, around the spring semester, my professor from my journalism class reached out to me with an opportunity with a newer magazine in Pittsburgh that was just coming together that needed some more people on the staff, so, I became the editorial assistant of “Maniac” magazine,” Indigo said.
While this may seem like a lot to handle for a college student attempting to start her own business, Indigo loves every minute of her multiple jobs, which has led to a multitude of opportunities for her to write for a variety of publications.
“At this point I have also written for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a few times and then “WHIRL”, “Maniac”, “The Communique” and “Odyssey”,” Indigo said.
Not only have her journalism writings been published, but many of her poems are receiving recognition as well.
“My poems have been published in a couple different things. I am actually accepting an award for one next week at Carnegie Mellon University. I have also read at the International English Honor Society and I’m going again this year,” she said.
And if you think that Indigo couldn’t possible have enough time to do anything else, you’d be mistaken. Not only does she write for “WHIRL” and “Maniac” along with Chatham’s papers, she is also in 14 clubs with leadership positions in each.
“At this point I am in charge of four student organizations. I am on the board of 10 others, which is really overwhelming. But, it’s also really stimulating and keeps me really on my toes. I also still do creative writing and graphic design. As far as creative writing goes I am currently the editor in chief of the literary magazine at Chatham,” Indigo said.
With Indigo’s time at Chatham is coming to an end, the age old question of, “What will I do with the rest of my life?” was easily answered for her.
“My business partner, Olivia Ciotoli, and I were talking about it. Our big interest is cats. I was sitting there with her big cat and we were like, ‘We really love cats, how can we work with them and find them homes?’ In Pittsburgh, especially during the spring, the numbers of stray cats really skyrockets,” she said. “We (realized) we were doing a lot of charity shows and fundraising for animal shelters and we sort of had one of those nights where you’re thinking, ‘Okay, I’m in my 20’s, what am I going to do with my life?’” Indigo said.
The idea for the The Black Cat Market, a cafe with a separate room where patrons can not only interact with, but also adopt, cats, was born.
Olivia and Indigo did not cut any corners during the initial planning process. Indigo went to Japan and Southeast Asia, home of many cat cafes, and met with multiple owners to inspire and guide her.
“I would go to a lot of cat cafes and talk to the owners–ask questions and stuff like that. Everyone that I talked to was really enthusiastic about meeting another cat cafe owner, especially an American one so they were great about answering questions for me and giving me really good advice.” Indigo said.
The best piece of advice that Indigo received, however, was to always keep other small businesses in mind while purchasing necessities for the business.
“The best advice was from the Taiwan (cat cafe) owner I met who was the most enthusiastic. He was one of the people who really encouraged us to reach out to people and other businesses. He was really the one who suggested we use things from other local businesses and friends who had small businesses. I really kept that in mind. It was great to work with other local businesses and just to lift each other up and support small businesses in Pittsburgh,” she said.
In addition to strangers in foreign lands, the two had two valuable resources much closer to home.
“(Olivia’s and my mom) are small business owners so we started asking them. It came down to really if you want to make something happen, you can. You just need to have the drive to be asking people and researching things,” Indigo said.
When it came down to where Indigo and Olivia would get their cats from, they both looked around for an animal shelter that met all of their moral standards.
“We wanted to work with the Animal Rescue League because they are a no kill shelter which we really appreciate, but because of that, they are always running out of room, so one way to combat that is through outside adoption. When you go to Petsmart and you see that they have animals there from a shelter, that’s outside adoption,” Indigo said.
Because they decided to go through the Animal Rescue League, The Black Cat Cafe will now also be able to accommodate in store adoption. Both Indigo and Olivia have gone through the training requirements to help future cat parents bring home their new cat(s).
“(Animal Rescue League) has a screening process in place for cats that can be together in a space because they have a cat room where they can interact and play together. They would be making sure they’re in good health, have their shots and making sure they’re fixed so that they can’t harm or affect each other negatively,” Olivia said.
While the focus for many will be on the feline residents at the cafe, that is not the only focus for the Black Cat Market. Not only did Indigo’s travels to Japan help shape the idea for her business, but it will help shape some of the things that will be part of the cafe and what Indigo hopes to do for our local Japanese community.
“We are planning on doing a lot of programming with the Japanese community in Pittsburgh. There’s actually a Japanese flower arrangement called ikebana and we’re planning on trying to have a display area for the Ikebana Society of Pittsburgh and hold events for the Japanese community,” Indigo said.
Along with offering opportunities for activities within the Japanese community, Indigo hopes to have additional classes and therapy options prepared for after the initial opening of the cafe.
“We have expressed interest in pet therapy workshops, especially for things that are really important to us like victims of sexual assault or domestic violence, pet therapy can be really helpful. We have been contacted by a lot of local professional psychologists who wanted to work with us,” Indigo said. “Looking towards the future, we want to do events having to do with organizations like Pittsburgh Action Against Rape. We’re just really trying to reach out to the community and make a safe space for people,”
Indigo and Olivia are hopeful to open the cafe within the next few months.
“We were aiming for late January to beginning of February because we have to do some construction so hopefully, if everything goes to plan…sometime in early 2017 is the general statement were going with now,” Olivia said.
Even though this process has been stressful for the young owners, they have been able to maintain a calm, yet excited facade thanks to help from the community.
“For a lot of our big purchases, we worried about costs. If you know anything about espresso machines, they are so expensive, thousands of dollars. We got ours for $500 from a fan that messaged us,” Indigo said.
They also received help from local business owners in Lawrenceville who were able to give generous contributions to the cafe including a coffee grinder and a coffee brewer.
“It’s been absolutely ridiculous, but wonderful and it’s just people reaching out to us,” Indigo said.
The cafe will offer a variety of drinks including regular coffee and specialty coffee drinks, as well as a variety of tea and baked goods.
The tea will be provided by Three Rivers Tea company, which is based out of Pittsburgh and the coffee from Grounds and Hounds, which is also local.
They especially wanted to support this coffee brand because Grounds and Hounds donates 20% of their profits to a charity of choice, and The Black Cat Market chose Animal Rescue League.
“Every cup of coffee that you buy goes right back to The Animal Rescue League. Not only are you helping the cats by like coming and interacting with them, but you are also helping by coming and getting a cup of coffee,” Indigo said.
Visit http://www.blackcatmarket.com/ for updates on when the cafe will open!