A Georgia State University film student at the time, she began researching the phenomenon of YouTube cat videos and discovered a concept known as a “cat cafe.” Patrons pay a fee to sip coffee and hang out with cute, adoptable cats. If a kitty catches their eye, they can take it home.
Hilton learned that cat cafes are popular across the globe in places as far away as Taiwan. To her surprise, there wasn’t a single one operating in Atlanta.
After briefly working at a coffee shop to sharpen her barista skills, in 2017 she dropped out of Georgia State just a few credits shy of graduation to open Java Cats Cafe in Grant Park. She clawed up enough business to open a second location one year later, with a Marietta Java Cats opening over the summer.
Nearly two dozen cats can be found lounging in the Grant Park kitty room. Hilton, now a successful entrepreneur well ahead of her 30th birthday, says the feline friends are like catnip for customers.
At Java Cats, patrons pay $10 for one hour hanging out with cats. The price includes a drink from the full-service coffee shop operating in an adjacent room. The cafe serves a good purpose as well: She’s seen more than 250 cats adopted in 15 months.
Some may be surprised at the rapid rise of Java Cats, but Hilton’s mother, Sheila Hutchins, isn’t one of them. The Douglasville resident instilled a love of animals in her daughter from a young age. During Hilton’s childhood, the family cared for not just cats and dogs, but possums and squirrels as well.
“All of her life we’ve had rescues,” says Hutchins, a frequent Java Cats visitor. “She has followed her heart. Hadyn has always been strong-willed, and it paid off in the end.”
Hilton loves all animals, but likes cats in particular for their famously detached demeanor.
“Dogs will become friendly with almost anyone in an instant,” Hilton says. “You have to really earn that trust with cats.”
Of Java Cats’ eight employees, six have adopted at least one cat. Hilton tries not to get attached to the in-house cats, though it does happen. She teaches them tricks to show their personalities, especially the often hard-to-adopt black cats.
Hilton also aggressively pushes Java Cats through social media, spending six hours a day on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
Kira Cole is one Java Cats social media success story. The Atlanta resident learned of Java Cats through one of Hilton’s Facebook posts and came in for a visit with her boyfriend, Connor O’Neal. A cat fell asleep in O’Neal’s lap, and 15 minutes after walking through the entrance they were filling out adoption papers for an all-black cat soon named Ichabod, or “Icky” for short.
It was what might be termed an impulse buy. Cole left the cafe at near 10 p.m. with no pet supplies at home. Hilton set the couple up with food and a few toys for the short-term, along with a cardboard carrying case.
Cole, who works at a veterinarian’s office, has become a Java Cats regular, meeting friends there for coffee even when they aren’t planning on seeing any cats. She used to consider herself more of a dog person, but the cat cafe, and Ichabod, changed her mind.
“He’s really spunky and still a little on the small side,” Cole says of her new pet. “Ichabod is a little weird. He wouldn’t be our cat if he wasn’t weird though. He’s the coolest and we love him.”
Incidentally, Java Cats is by no means BYOC: Patrons cannot bring their own cats inside to hang out, though they’re certainly welcome to leave with one.
Java Cats Café. 415-C Memorial Drive, Atlanta; 85 Atlanta St., Marietta. 404-305-7575. JavaCatsCafe.com
The cat room usually has more than means the eye: Nearly two dozen can be in residence at a given time, although they may be hidden in the room’s nooks and crannies.