El Jefe Cat Lounge and Soon to be Cafe!

Story and Photos by Bonnie Craig
On a sunny winter afternoon a tortoiseshell cat basks contentedly in the light shafting in through a large window emblazoned with the distinct logo of El Jefe Cat Lounge. Upon entering, a bright little foyer separated by decorative screens features cat toys of all shapes and sizes, accessories, and apparel, as well as a chest of local ice cream and various fancy soft drinks. After paying the 12 dollars per hour admission fee, you’ll be given a pouch of cat treats and welcomed to the inner sanctum of the lounge.

It’s as if you have entered the living room of a quirky and creative friend. Vibrant artwork and murals decorate the walls, complemented by more natural light. Soft velvet furniture and mosaic tiles further embellish the space.  Now let us dispense with the antiquated and derogatory term, “crazy cat person”, and instead refer to this hypothetical friend as an “eccentric cat enthusiast”, because the cats are certainly the most important feature of this lovely space, all 35 of them…

Tiffany Lee may never have thought she would find herself the steward of such a pride of little lions on the day she missed the appointment for her real estate licensing exam, and distraught, headed south from Chandler to Tucson, seeking the comfort and cuddles of her daughter’s cat. Yes, the cat. Of course she enjoyed her daughter as well, and an idea began to formulate. She had been impressed with La Gattara (it does mean crazy cat lady in Italian, but we’ll overlook that) Cat Cafe in Phoenix and the win-win service it provided to humans and cats. Being an entrepreneur herself, she thought, why not give something like that a try in Tucson? It would provide her daughter with a job while she went to college, as well as a business Tiffany could grow to support herself as well as the kitties it would house.

She came up with the name El Jefe Cat Lounge in a nod to the Jaguar of the same name, first to be seen in the wild in the US since the death of another male Jaguar, Macho B. in 2009. She found the perfect space and remodeled it herself, bringing that big cat energy to the opening celebration on Halloween 2019, but she could never have known what an inauspicious time it was to open a business.

After only four months in operation, the Lounge had to shut down, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Disheartened, but refusing defeat, Tiffany shifted gears again, hauling her sewing machine into the closed lounge and beginning to sew cloth face masks. Despite the inability to accommodate the public, the space could still serve cats, so in a comical twist, (What could be better than a bunch of kittens in a sewing shop?) she welcomed a group of them from New Mexico. During this time, adoptions could still happen, but by appointment only, and with the proper precautions.

Somehow, Tiffany was able to weather the storm, and by the time COVID restrictions were lifted, the lounge was ready to resume business. Now partnered with local rescue and 501c3 non-profit, Finally My Forever Home (FMFH), the lounge acts basically as a large foster operation, having found their sweet spot at 35 cats. The cats, as well as their human guests, can roam freely from the cat games area downstairs, to the cat TV area upstairs. At the very top of the suite, the kittens have their own private aerie, where they can engage in their kitten shenanigans without incurring the wrath of the older cats. This separation is also important as they await or recover from spay/neuter surgeries, as well as the fact that it isn’t until 6 months of age when SNAP tests are administered. These tests screen for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and feline heartworm (FHW). This way, El Jefe can provide the safest and most fun environment for everyone as they await adoption.

During its relatively short tenure, El Jefe has facilitated a remarkable 415 adoptions (at the time of this writing). All of these adoptions go through the FMFH rescue, as would be the case in most rescue/foster situations. Cats of various needs, breeds, abilities and ages have enjoyed  El Jefe, as a kind of halfway house on their roads home. Oakley, a gorgeous female blue is a two time survivor of Feline Intestinal Peritonitis (FIP), who is now the picture of health, luxuriously lounging and enjoying her parade of admirers as she awaits her true love. The very worldly Mr. Dudley, a Scottish fold cat from Turkey, went home with Tiffany to receive IV fluids and never left. Munchkin Cat, OZ became best friends with tripod cat, Buttons, the two perfectly suited in play. Even a few cats with wobbly cat syndrome (Cerebellar Hypoplasia), a neurological disorder that causes lack of coordination, have come through the lounge and been adopted.

The future looks bright for this beautiful ragtag bunch. The lounge will soon be taking over the next door space as well and expanding into a cafe, bringing in even more attention and potential adopters for all of the little Jefes. In the meantime, they host regular events including cat yoga, bingo, and trivia, as well as art shows. El Jefe Cat Lounge is located at 3025 North Campbell in Tucson and is open seven days a week.

For more info, go to eljefecatlounge.com.



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