If you’ve ever thought, “I’d really love to pet a reptile while I drink my morning coffee,” well, you’re in luck.
Two Richmonders are looking to open a lizard cafe, Lizards and Lattes, within the next six months — the first one of its kind outside of Japan. Fiancées Sarah Tiller and Marcos Garcia, both 25, want to spread their love for reptiles and educate the public about the scaly creatures.
“People hear ‘reptiles’ and they kind of cringe,” says Tiller. “They think they’re slimy and scary-looking.” Tiller says reptiles are actually sweet and have many different personalities, such as Ozwald, their 6-foot red iguana, who is very affectionate and loves to cuddle.
The cafe will have to have two sides to it, with a dividing wall between the reptile side and the cafe side. But people will be able to bring drinks like a “Blood Python Latte” to the reptile side. It will also offer prepared foods such as sandwiches, says Tiller, a little like a Starbucks. “We’re not making food on premise,” she says.
They hope to expand once one cafe is up and running and add beer taps for an adult happy hour.
Tiller says she talked a lot to the health department about reptiles and widespread fears about salmonella on their skin. “They were freaking out,” she says. “But I’ve been doing this my entire life, and I’ve never gotten [salmonella]. I know all the precautions you have to take.” All the reptiles at the cafe will get a thorough cleaning and will be tested for any unwanted bacteria.
Tiller and Garcia are looking mostly in Midlothian for their cafe space. “It would be really cool to be in the city,” says Tiller, but they’re concerned about the zoning requirements for parking, among other restrictions.
Each lizard will have a habitat specific to its natural environment — expect lots desert-like spaces and trees for climbing. And Tiller and Garcia say they’ll change out their 20 lizards occasionally to give returning customers new reptile experiences. Tiller says she’s hoping to get an American alligator and pythons — for display only.
Adoptable lizards will also find a place to meet potential new owners. Ozwald was a rescue from a shelter in Fairfax. “When we got him, he was in terrible shape,” says Tiller. “He had about a year’s worth of stuck shed. His nails were split up the middle, because he hadn’t been climbing anything.” Stuck shed is skin condition that develops when its skin sheds but the iguana hasn’t been able to remove by climbing and rubbing. When she first got him, a dry, gray layer of dead skin hid Ozwald’s red skin.
Tiller is a Midlothian native and a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, studying environmental science. She’s taking time off from school to get the business started. Garcia moved to Richmond from Oregon to study paralegal studies at the University of Richmond.
Tiller traces her love of reptiles back to her childhood, when her parents noticed her obsession with lizards. “Instead of hanging out with [family in Florida], I would be outside catching lizards,” she says.
The pair is raising $15,000 via crowdfunding online and will get a personal loan to cover the rest of expenses.Virginian-Pilot reporter Elisha Sauers contributed to this report.