This April something very special is coming to our fair City that might just give the Kitty Cafe a run for its money. In an undisclosed location, Leeds will get the UK’s, if not the world’s first, Sloth Cafe.
Ahead of their opening, I sat down with Penelope Halliwell, the founder of The Sloth Lane, over an exceptional cuppa, to answer those burning questions, what is a Sloth Cafe and why choose Leeds as the place to open one?
Ok, right now you may be thinking it’s a tad cruel keeping sloths in a cafe, but you’d be wrong. Your average captive sloth lives much longer under the care of humans than their wild cousins, so we’re actually doing them a favour by locking them up and although they might seem like solitary creatures, they are actually very affectionate and love a good cuddle once they get to know you. In fact, a sloth that has had human interaction from birth can be as loving as any domestic pet, but that’s doesn’t mean they are for petting. For visitors, there will be a strictly enforced look and don’t touch rule. Penelope clearly knows a lot about sloths and sloth care and there’s a good reason for that – before returning to the UK she had spent the last 10 years working at the world’s first dedicated sloth sanctuary near Cahuita in Costa Rica.
However, when they aren’t having a good cuddle it’s true they much prefer to spend most of their time hanging around in trees, something which is being carefully considered when it comes to the interior design. I’m told the building has very high ceilings and a specially designed roof made from the same materials that you’ll find at the Eden Project. Not only will this let in as much natural light as possible but it will also allow for tropical plants such as the fast-growing Cecropia to be grown, so the new arrivals feel right at home.
At this point, Penelope is quick to point out that no sloths will be taken from the wild. Quite the opposite. She has been working closely with some lovely people at a new sanctuary in Wales that takes in older captive-bred sloths from zoos across the UK once they are past their breeding age. This makes room for a number of successful breeding programmes while giving the little fellas a nice place to live out their lives. Those that are sent to the sanctuary will come to stay in Leeds on rotation, so they get a change of scenery and a new environment in which to interact, and better still their carer comes with them so they have a friendly face from day one. The older sloths are really chilled out apparently (like the young ones are crazy ravers) and will make ideal guests at the tea house.
So apart from being a wonderful home for our slotherly friends, what else does The Sloth Lane have to offer? In short, Tea. Really good Tea. This is going to be the place to kick back and take a leaf out the sloth’s book. In fact, in a brave move, you won’t find any coffee on offer; just some of the finest teas in the world, together with the obvious home favourite for the locals, Yorkshire Tea.
I had to ask. Why Leeds? Well, Penelope did plenty of research before deciding on a location and although the temptation to open in the capital was strong, she decided on the North. There are clearly so many coffee shops in Leeds so Penelope is sure there’s a gap in the market for a dedicated tea house, which she hopes to fill. She also plans to reach out to the growing number of younger people in the City who are choosing a more relaxed lifestyle and preferring to work as little as humanly possible in favour of a better work-life balance. Lazy millennials aside, Penny (as I’ve now started to call her) has obviously benefited from a somewhat different pace of life in Costa Rica with well being clearly at the heart of what she’s planning here in Leeds and power to her.
Preferring to live close to work, Leeds is also now her home and having been born in Middleborough before moving out to South America after a painful break-up, it felt only right that she return to the North and I’m pleased she did.
I’m told the interior and branding will be very appealing to her target demographic and from the visuals I was shown, you’d be forgiven for thinking the guys behind Belgrave had something to do with it. You’ll also find quiet zones where speaking is discouraged and the whole place is device free, which is something that both the younger generation and the sloths would certainly benefit from. I particularly liked the metal cups they are planning to serve the tea in. The connoisseurs will no doubt argue they should be using their best china, but this is clearly not your normal tea house.
Food is, of course, plant-based, with lots of leaves and fruit and although a sloth will eat insects and small rodents in the wild, Penelope is a strict vegan and will be having none of that. Visitors will be encouraged to share their meals with our slow-moving friends in order to help them settle in and become more comfortable with their new surroundings.
It’s hoped The Sloth Lane will open soon and as soon as we can tell you more about the location we will.
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