Despite the overpopulation of kitty cafes throughout the world's urban centers, coffee options for today's sophisticated city pooch have been shamefully limited—until recently. Enter Queens, New York's only premium dog boutique and specialty coffee shop, Chateâu le Woof.
The business idea was almost destiny for owner Natassa Contini, a native New Yorker with family in Brazil and an unscratchable itch for all things canine. Her dog market and cafe sits in a coffee-underserved part of Astoria, Queens, near the pup-popular Socrates Sculpture Park, and proffers coffee beverages, Brazilian treats, and quality dog food and accoutrements under the auspices of a Parisian theme. Contini says it all came to her in a dream.
“One morning I woke up and the dog cafe came to me. I dreamt about dogs and coffee and it just all came together,” including the name, said the ebullient Contini, chatting with me over a sunny morning cappuccino as her four-and-two-legged patrons came and went.
Contini, who got her start in coffee at Brooklyn's Iris Cafe, felt the west side of Astoria was ready for a high-quality cafe. She selected La Colombe to provide the coffee, and says she prefers to select their offerings from Brazil and Mexico to appeal to her neighborhood's demographics. “People don't mind paying a dollar more for a cup,” she says, acknowledging that she had to prove herself to the community, many members of whom perceived her at first as just another gentrifier.
But if anything's an equalizer in this world, it's a dog. Contini herself has two dogs—King, a Pit Bull Terrier, and Lola, a rescued Chihuahua—and Chateâu le Woof has become an anchor for this dog-centric part of Astoria.
“I was part of the dog community prior to this [and] every morning I would get up and walk my dog and search for coffee,” said Contini of life before le Woof. “I'd have to go all the way up to Bakeway on Broadway. And then I thought how cool would it be to get a cup of coffee and bring the dog and get some treats for him?”
But as those who've been to New York City's strangely segregated cat cafes know, offering both human and animal delicacies in the same spot is difficult to do within city health regulations. While Chateâu le Woof is technically a market, rather than a food service establishment, Contini still limits the time dogs may be inside the Chatêau to a specific “Yappy Hour” each afternoon, after the espresso machine is closed down and the space is cleaned.
“It's awesome: people who don't have dogs come here and get their dog fix, they hang out, enjoy, dogs come in and out, and the dog people love it of course,” says Contini.
During non-yappy hours, human customers stop by and indulge in coffee drinks paired with traditional Brazilian pão de queijo, or guava-parmesan pound cake. (Indeed, it can be hard to tell which tasty-looking snacks atop the counter are meant for dogs, and which are meant for the owners.) The cafe also recently began to feature sandwiches in the form of a pop-up residence by recently shuttered Ukrainian restaurant BEAR. Besides the coffee bar, the remainder of the intimate shop is dedicated to high-end, independent dog food brands, treats and toys, and even a small cat table—for those who march to a different drummer.
The future looks bright for dogs—and dog cafes—in Contini's little corner of New York City. Soon to join nearby Socrates Park and Rainey Park, the city plans to build a million-dollar dog park under the RFK (formerly Triborough) Bridge, just a few blocks north of Chateâu le Woof.
To Contini, the whole thing still feels like a dream realized.
“I entertained so many different ideas and I just kept coming back to Chateâu le Woof. It's what it's supposed to be.”
Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge.com. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.