Ten years ago we wrote about Java Cat at their original location. If you are unfamiliar you can find an homage to the 3918 Monona Drive building (photos along with a set of door keys) hung just inside the door of the new location at 4221 Lien Road. The move seems to have energized the proprietor, Renee Raspiller, but she admits that as she gets older the hard work doesn’t get any easier. She describes it as a labor of love for the community and still tries to learn the names of as many customers as possible with a smile and a welcoming demeanor that make her immediately likable.
The cafe’s familiar collection of cat-themed decor adorns the new spot, and you can still get beans provided by local roasters Just Coffee Cooperative, but the overall feeling is brighter with white paint all around, and high ceilings above the bar. Natural wood throughout the building softens the light and fills the space with warm tones. Next to the iconic Java Cat statue, you can even find a surprisingly playable house guitar sitting in front of a section of slatted wall. The slatted walls allow for art to be easily installed and rotated as needed.
The Lien Road building (which was formerly Legacy House Imports Gift Shop and Tea Room) began as a house erected in 1941 on what was then a family farm. There were additions made in the 1980s and early 2000s to enlarge the house and ultimately make the structure 400 square feet larger than the former Java Cat location. The increased space allows for two accessible, all-gender restrooms and seating for 48 split between a large main space with smaller tables and a rear area with a long table that can be used for group gatherings. This all wraps around a central kitchen.
At the time of our interview, the kitchen had been gutted and rebuilt to purpose, but the gelato equipment had not yet been installed for production. The refrigerated case for displaying and dispensing the house-made specialty was cleaned and lined with bins for several flavors. The offering of gelato is a distinction you will often hear made by Java Cat fans. Renee’s former partner fell in love with it on a trip to Italy and couldn’t find anything similar once returning home. Some time, and a trip to Baltimore later, Renee acquired the skills to make the dessert in a fashion that would not otherwise be available locally made.
With the time of warm weather finally upon us you can soon enjoy your treat in the outdoor area behind the building. The space has several possibilities and could allow for additional seating, yard games, fire pits, a dog-friendly section, and larger outdoor gatherings. Permits are being explored for music and potential alcohol sales. There is so much new possibility that you could almost give up being disappointed at the loss of the drive-thru.