Sesame Cafe makes food-themed cat toys for pet owners

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Lifelong friends and Evanston residents Theresa Robinson and Skye O’Connor adopted two rescue cats at the end of August 2020. They co-founded their small business Sesame Cafe on Etsy two months later, after losing their jobs during the pandemic.

“We noticed that there weren’t a lot of colorful cat toys,” O’Connor said. “The cat toy section in stores was really small, (but) there’s a lot of products for dog toys.”

Sesame Cafe uses a kawaii pastel aesthetic in their Asian food-inspired felt cat toys, which are infused with catnip. Their shapes range from shrimp tempura to mochi donuts and sell human-friendly creations, including tote bags, earrings, keychains and clothes.

The name “Sesame Cafe” is inspired by O’Connor’s cat, Sesame.

O’Connor and Robinson said their goal was to create products that would bring people joy. O’Connor, who is Korean, added that it was important for her to share her culture through her creations.

“Seeing your culture represented in a mainstream or major way is really important,” O’Connor said. “It really brings people a lot of joy to be able to have foods that represent their culture or their comfort and share it with their pets.”

Robinson said she frequently received packages from BarkBox — a monthly subscription that ships dog toys and treats to people’s doorsteps — containing imaginative and adorable toys before she started the store. One shaped like a dumpling caught her eye, which inspired her to make similar plushies for cats.

Customer Liz Daley Khan found the shop through the anime convention Uchi-Con, where she was thrilled to see the shop’s array of items.

Since then, they have been on the lookout for Sesame Cafe’s table at each convention they attend.

“I really, really like their aesthetic, it just matches mine very well,” Daley Khan said. “They have a very pretty pastel but also interesting aesthetic … I buy a lot of kawaii jewelry and accessories and I feel like it can start to look the same, but theirs has a really unique take.”

O’Connor said both she and Robinson attended conventions regularly prior to opening their business. She said she thinks the conventions are good sites for non-traditional art and found their accepting communities are perfect for growing their customer base.

Robinson said the duo tries to connect with customers as much as possible, displaying the pet pictures people send them through social media on the business’s table at events. They also prioritize making their shop a welcoming space, she said.

“We also want to be size inclusive too, which we did with our sweaters,” Robinson said.

Robinson said they like to look at food pictures, blogs and try dishes at restaurants to draw inspiration for their items.

Last year, the owners made ornaments for fun –– based on random cat pictures. O’Connor said because customers really enjoyed them, they decided to make them commissionable and personalized to people’s pets.

O’Connor and Robinson said they hope to expand their business and social media presence and one day have a physical cat cafe location. O’Connor added that they want to show people they can embrace the unconventional.

“A lot of people lose touch with their inner child or their inner youth,” O’Connor said. “It’s such a powerful thing to embrace the fun side of life and not let things be so heavy all the time … We ultimately want to make things that make people happy.”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @Astry_tpwk

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