Around a dozen cats sleep or stroll among wooden tables and boxes, some scratch the glass door, others eat from food trays lying on the ground.
Two customers are cuddling a British shorthair while the other tables are empty. On the other side of the door, a barista is playing video games on his mobile phone.
It is a typical scene at Lizzy House on Hanoi’s Xa Dan Street, which used to be popular with cat lovers until a few years ago. But animal cafes were clearly a fad, and are now going out of style.
With fewer and fewer customers coming in, these cafes have been struggling to survive in the last few years, and Covid-19 was the last straw that caused many of them to throw in the towel.
At many cat and dog cafes in Hanoi and Saigon, empty tables are not an unusual sight.
Customers sit among cats at Hanoi’s Lizzy House on September 25, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hue.
On a week day in late September, Ngao’s Home, a cat cafe in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District, has no customer. Others that have been around for years like Meo’s House and Lizzy House have fewer than 10.
“The number of customers is 30-40 percent of that in the past,” Nguyen Thanh Hoa, 28, owner of Lizzy House, says, adding sometimes she has only four of five in a whole day, and earns VND300,000 ($13) “while the cost of running the cafe is VND45 million ($1,950) a month.”
In Saigon, Yuna Alaska Coffee, which has around a dozen Alaskan malamutes, said it gets fewer and fewer customers.
On Hanoi’s Ngo Xuan Quang Street, Meow Meow, which used to be popular as a hangout for youngsters, was replaced by a grocery store late last year.
According to Nguyen Hai Son, who had spent VND90 million together with his friends to set up the cafe, the number of patrons decreased quickly and he decided to “quit the game.”
Babo Coffee, once a rendezvous for reptile lovers in Saigon, closed in May and told its patrons it would reopen “when the situation gets better.”
A cat cafe on Saigon’s Nguyen Kiem Street, which was closed earlier this year. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
When it was the trend, animal-themed shops mushroomed in Hanoi and HCMC. Customers, mostly young animal lovers who were not allowed to have a pet at home, flocked to them.
But over time, with people gradually being spoiled for choice in terms of amusement options, they started losing their attraction.
People who love animals, learning that the novel coronavirus originated from wild animals, have become cautious.
“Animals can carry a lot of pathogens, and so I have stopped going to my favorite cat cafe since the pandemic began,” Nguyen Thanh Phuong, 21, a university student, says.
Even before the pandemic, many people, especially parents, were careful about letting their children interact with animals at pet cafes, fearing they could contract something nasty.
Hoa says two customers were scratched, and she had to spend VND5 million on taking them to the hospital and giving them rabies shots.
The problem with pet cafes is that even when they are closed or get few customers, they have to spend money on the animals’ food and deal with their health issues.
Binh, owner of Ngao’s Home, hopes his business will improve and is trying to tighten his belt: “I am young and do not have a lot of needs, so I will spend less and overcome these difficulties because I know I cannot stop spending on my cats.”
Hoa dips into her savings to pay for her cats’ food, which includes pate, shredded chicken and rice.
“It is not easy, but I will try my best.”