Nearing 1000 adoptions: Nine Lives Cat Café to hold a celebratory event as its adoptions continue to grow

Kelley Niiyama co-owns Nine Lives with her husband. (Photo by Jessica Todd)

By Jessica Todd

Cats have returned to the Nine Lives Cat Café, and adoptions are booming. Owners
Kelley and Hidetaka Niiyama anticipate 1,000 adoptions by the end of the summer and are preparing to commemorate the occasion with a public celebration on June 12, 1 – 4 p.m. at the café, 1315 Shelby St., Indianapolis.

“We will have vendors outside, a rummage sale, a lot of books to sell, our first story hour, a live artist and many other special things,” Kelley said. “With permission from the sellers, we hope to donate proceeds from the event to Indy Adopts. We are also excited to unveil our new logo to the public at the event.”

Where it all began

The café is local to the Fountain Square area and was opened by a father-daughter duo in January 2017. Current owners Kelley and Hidetaka Niiyama lived above the space
before the opportunity to take over fell into their laps in March of 2020.

“My husband is an opera conductor, and he decided he was going to quit his job and go to Japan to work with an Opera foundation,” explained Kelley. “I began to renovate our house thinking we were going to sell it. I lived upstairs, and I needed a job after I finished renovating the house. I began working at the café as a cat wrangler.”

The couple ended up not moving after all, and Kelley’s long-term job as a classical musician fell through after an injury to her finger.

“I was 49 years old and had no idea what I was going to do next,” said Kelley. “Around that time, the previous owners told the employees that they were selling the café. I knew right then that I wanted to buy it.”

After the couple did an abundance of research, Hidetaka finally agreed to buy the café with his wife. By the time they were ready to take over, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States.

“The business operated for eight days before it shut down,” explained Kelley. “At first, I was horrified about what I just did, but then I realized how much time we had to redecorate and make the café something new.”

The Niiyama’s spent the majority of quarantine painting, adding new carpet to the catlounge and adding their touch to the business. They created an online store in April that earned enough money to pay the rent.

“At the end of April, we opened for curbside. I was hesitant about doing it because, at the time, we had no cats in the building,” said Kelley. “It ended up being a fun husband
and wife thing, and our supporters that love this place were with us throughout the whole thing.”

A light at the end of the tunnel

At the end of May 2020, cats returned to the building, and adoptions began exploding.

“We had 404 adoptions within six months. Everyone needed a companion during a hard time. The whole thing was a learning experience that helped our business become a better environment for our customers and cats,” said Kelley.

As of March, the café has been working with three shelters including, Misty Eyes, Bartholomew County Humane Society and Columbus Care Animal Services. The cats switch out almost every three weeks. A recent change in philosophy has also opened new doors for the business.

“Right now, we are beginning to work with Indy Adopts to help smaller shelters with the abundance of kittens they house,” said Kelley. “Shelters in southern Indiana are full of kittens, and their kitten season never really ends. We want to assist in that area and are
excited about the new collaboration we have started with Indy Adopts.”

Adoptions at the café have slowed since businesses have reopened and people are returning to work. As of June 8, the café had successfully aided in the adoption of 960 cats.

“By the time summer is over, I project that we will reach our goal of 1000 adoptions,”
said Kelley. “We would love to have 40 more cats adopted by our event on Saturday, but it is not realistic.”

Supporters and employees are determined to reach the goal by August.

“I love working here,” said Erin Fischer, who has been a cat wrangler at the café since
August 2020. “All of the employees care so much about the cats and finding them the
best homes. This job is honestly the best job I have ever had, and Kellie and Hidetaka are genuine people who care so much about the well-being of their employees, the cats and the business overall.”

The Niiyama’s hope to continue to build awareness for their adoption process and educate the Southside community about the history of cats. Hidetaka is from Japan, and the couple is passionate about teaching their customers Japanese culture and how cat cafés are common throughout Japan.

“We are so grateful to be where we are despite the rough patches 2020 brought,” said Kelley. “It is rewarding to say that we made it through the pandemic and are continuing
to find our cats new homes every single day. We did it, and we will continue to grow as the years go forward.”

For more information regarding the café and upcoming celebration, email hello@ninelivescatcafe.com or call (317) 602-5287. More information and content from the café can also be found on Facebook @ Nine Lives Cat Café or Instagram @NineLivesCCIndy.

Get to know Kelley Niiyama

What is your favorite place on the Southside? Rosco’s Tacos

What is the best part of your job? I just love all of the people. My employees and customers are amazing and seeing our cats get adopted is always an emotional
rollercoaster.

Do you have any of your own pets? I have five cats named McJagger, Misha, Montgomery (Chase), Michelangelo and Millie.

When COVID slows down, where do you want to travel? My husband and I already have tickets to go to Italy in August.

What is your favorite item on the café’s menu? The seasonal coconut caramel latte.