Java Cat Coffeehouse

“The Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name”

There’s a coffeehouse on the scenic shores of Lake Monona that is truly noteworthy. So noteworthy, in fact, that both Madison and Monona try to claim it as their own (Madison wins).

Java Cat is that place. When you walk in, owners Renee Raspiller and Shari Olson are very likely to greet you by name if they’ve met you even once before. “Years ago, when I envisioned what our coffeehouse would be like,” says Raspiller, “I always thought it would be like the Cheers bar where everyone knew everyone else.”

Little did they know back in those early days that this vision would turn out to be a spot-on description of what their little slice of coffee heaven would grow to become. Today, Java Cat is thriving and has become a gathering place for old friends, new moms, graduates, neighbors, and anyone else who has time to drop in.

Prior to opening Java Cat in 2005, both women had stable “day jobs” (Olson as a teacher, Raspiller as a truck driver) but they both believed that there should be more to work than the daily grind that they were in. And from there, a plan started to take shape. From the onset of their planning, their business model had relationship-building tucked into every corner. And that priority is still felt today.

When I arrived for our interview, I was immediately greeted with their warm smiles and handed a steaming-hot mug of fresh coffee. Many of the seats in the house were taken, and people were still coming in despite the blizzard, and all the while the JC staff was greeting nearly everyone by name. Even while we sat at an out-of-the-way table for the interview, customers and friends took time to peek around the corner at us and to say hello to the owners. Clearly, their model is working.

One thing I really appreciate about Java Cat is their variety of menu offerings. This is not just a place to get a great latte (beans supplied by Just Coffee Co-op). They have different homemade soups each day of the week, a splendid assortment of sandwiches, and gorgeous pastries (some vegetarian or vegan and some gluten-free) to pair with your coffee. Honestly, though, what first brought me into their shop years ago was their homemade gelato. Of course, I’ve been back for the coffee, but even in the winter I rarely leave without a scoop of that amazing gelato. Shari really had to sell Renee on the gelato idea. As Renee was fond of saying, “This is a coffeehouse, not an ice cream parlor,” but thank goodness for us all, Shari convinced her that it was a sound business decision to offer it.

Another way that the Java Cat women stay connected to their community is through sponsorships of or donations to several local fund-raising events, such as the ACT II AIDS Ride, the Java Jive, and the March of Dimes, to name a few. And while they never set out to be “the gay coffeehouse,” they also never shied away from the fact that they are lesbians. What was important to them was that all people, young or old, gay or straight, bi, trans, and everyone in between could walk through their door and always feel welcome. So if you’re looking for an amazing cup of coffee, a place to be completely at ease with friends, or a place to indulge in a dreamy scoop of gelato, Java Cat really should not be missed.