Sesame Cafe makes food-themed cat toys for pet owners

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

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

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 joy to people. O’Connor, who is Korean, added that it was important for her to share her culture through her designs.

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

Robinson said she frequently receives packages from BarkBox — a monthly subscription that ships dog toys and treats to people’s doorsteps — featuring imaginative and adorable toys before she opens the store. One in the shape of a dumpling caught her eye, which inspired her to make similar stuffed animals for cats.

Customer Liz Daley Khan found the store through the Uchi-Con anime convention, where she was delighted to see the store’s range of items.

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

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

O’Connor said she and Robinson regularly attended conventions before opening their business. She said she thinks conventions are good venues for non-traditional art and their host communities are perfect for growing their clientele.

Robinson said the duo try to connect with customers as much as possible, displaying the pictures of animals people send them via social media on the company’s table at events. They also prioritize making their store a welcoming space, she said.

“We also want to include sizing, which we’ve done with our sweaters,” Robinson said.

Robinson said they enjoy looking at photos of dishes, blogging, and trying dishes in restaurants to get inspiration for their posts.

Last year, the owners made ornaments for fun – based on random pictures of cats. O’Connor said that because customers really liked them, they decided to make them commissionable and personalized for 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. 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 do things that make people happy.”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @Astry_tpwk

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