ZILLAH — Near a menu posted outside the door of the Calico Cat Café, a letter from employee Rickette York says what her job means to her.
The cafe at 907 Vintage Valley Parkway is a culinary and cat adoption program of the nonprofit Community SEEDS, which provides Yakima County women and men who have autism and other disabilities with employment, job training and social activities York is one of nine café employees, all with disabilities.
“This program is very important to people like me who have a disability. I have applied for tons of jobs only to be denied and turned down,” wrote York, who welcomes guests, takes orders and helps out elsewhere when needed. “It really makes you want to just give up, which I had done before I heard about the café opening up in Zillah. I applied and was so happy to get the job!
“I show up early and give it my all each and every day because I love it — and love the fact that someone finally gave me a chance to work to have a normal life. It improves my mental health, and gives me a reason to get up and get out of the house each day.”
York and her eight co-workers, whose names are also on the letter, are thankful they have jobs. But like so many nonprofits and restaurants, the café is struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A Small Business Administration loan helped in May and June, but those funds have run out, according to Linda Fox, executive director of Community SEEDS.
The cat café had been open only four months before a water pipe in the ceiling burst on Jan. 15. Repairs were extensive and took longer than expected. The café reopened for takeout May 8.
“We’ve had a rough start,” Fox said. “We just want to get our funding through the winter months. Summer’s our busy time, but it can’t be this summer. By spring we’ll be able to start standing on our own feet again.”
A Zillah resident has offered to donate $1,500 a month for the next few months as matching funds. A $1,500 match would add up to almost half the $7,500 a month the café needs to survive the pandemic, a news release said. Cafe staff are hopeful for solutions.
Thanks to growing support from donors and diners, the café will be able to stay open through July, according to a Monday afternoon post on the cat café’s Facebook page. “We’ll continue to seek critical funding to carry us through the end of the year while we work to recover from the effects of the pandemic,” the post said.
Take-out orders just aren’t enough for some restaurants, which have opted to close temporarily while they wait for coronavirus restrictions to ease in Yakima County.
The cat café will need more than take-out orders to sustain it in the coming months, Fox stressed. At the same time, she and staff are pleased that business has improved, boosted by the triple-patty Zillbilly Burger, and want to keep the good momentum going.
“We had a couple construction guys from out of town” who came in and ordered Zillbilly Burgers, posting photos on Facebook before they devoured them, said cook Tasha Cohenour. “And the next thing you know, we’ve got all these construction guys ordering.”
Cohenour had worked at the café for just two days before the ceiling collapsed in January. She and Rey Bravo joined York in talking about how hard it is to find work at a place that will accept them — and work around their disabilities — in good times, let alone in a pandemic when millions of others have lost their jobs.
Along with York’s letter to the community, Bravo read a statement in a video posted on the cat café’s Facebook page. He has a mild form of autism that affects his motor skills and how he communicates with others.
“Ever since I found this job, it changed me completely to a more positive outlook,” Bravo says in the video. “Previous jobs that I had did not work for me.
“This job is great. It is a stress-free environment. ... It also provides more opportunities for others out there to change their future.”
Like York, Bravo has worked at the café since it opened. He washes dishes, handles some food prep and mows the lawn as needed, and cares for the four resident cats at the end of his shift. The café, which has adopted out 16 kittens and cats, has adoptions on hold until it can open for in-house dining.
“I feel like every town should have a place like this where they can go to work,” Bravo said. “I’m very grateful for this job.’”
He and café staff appreciate the support of their community, which ranges from their landlords, Ken and Sandi Fein, to the Zillah Chamber of Commerce, other businesses, civic organizations and local chiropractor Dr. Kenny Delp.
It has all helped create a place “where we fit in,” York wrote.
“If anyone can help us in any way to keep the café open, you would be a blessing,” she wrote.