The word “community” can convey a sense of both solidarity and homeliness. For example, adding the word “community” to “policing” transforms the state’s legitimate monopoly power over the use of force into something warm and loving.
Many positive individual and community outcomes, such as higher well-being and community participation, are associated with a sense of community. Therefore, people must understand the essentiality of developing a strong community, where they can easily interact with each other. Keeping in mind the same aspect, Mark A. Thiede built Two Wrasslin’ Cats, a cat-themed coffee house.
Thiede, who is a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry retired from Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in 2012 and decided to open a café, Two Wrasslin’ Cats Coffee House, in May 2013. Over nearly 10 years of business, he has cultivated a sense of community through breakfast, lunch, coffee, ice cream, and conversation. Thiede said in an interview, “My main goal was to create a space where the community could do their own thing, ” and this is what he did with the place he created during “retirement”.
The trademark of the café house depicts his two cats, Bruno and Larry, standing on their hind legs as if they are poised for “battle.” The vision behind this logo was to assure people that the café serves as a community center for the East Haddam-Moodus-Salem area. According to the affable owner, Mark Thiede, the cafe is a “sanctuary restaurant” where “there’s always a place at the table for everyone.”
Thiede is a man who isn’t particularly interested in material things; instead, he wanted to create a warm and welcoming space for his community; not just to eat and drink, but also to convene, host meetings, poetry readings, art exhibits, open mic nights, all this, with no rental fee.
On the walls of Two Wrasslin’ Cats lies the artwork of the East Haddam Art League, which has been meeting in the space since it was opened. The cafe also sponsors a local sports team and has hosted both Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Thiede firmly believes making the space available for such meetings possesses the power of supporting the broad concept of kindness and looking out for his neighbors in need.
Inside the shop, there are cat-themed decorations everywhere, but those who are allergic should not be concerned because per the local health department, there are no live cats within the shop. However, the spirits of Larry and Bruno (Thiede’s two cats) can be found on the mantle of one of the shop’s fireplaces but also are apparent in the names of the sandwiches ($4.75-$9.75) on the menu. Similarly, the Catprese is a delicious ciabatta bread sandwich with mozzarella, tomato, and basil. Thiede reported that the Tom Cat Turkey, which comes with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce is one of his best-selling items all year.
In preparation for opening Two Wrasslin’ Cats after leaving Pfizer, Thiede traveled to Portland, Oregon, to attend the American Barista and Coffee school,” a five-day seminar and hands-on workshop hosted by the Balisimo coffee-consulting firm that offers advice and education to aspiring coffee shop owners. Two Wrasslin’ Cats coffee beans are locally sourced from Saccuzzo Coffee Co. in Newington, Connecticut. As a result, while the coffee menu is fairly classic and traditional, it is exactly what one wants in a coffee shop.
Two Wrasslin’ Cats offers breakfast sandwiches which include the Littermate and Kitten Classic, which are served until 11 a.m. Sandwiches are made on a variety of fresh rolls and sliced bread baked locally by Alberto’s bakery, the former Fabled Foods of Deep River, CT. TWC sources much of its meat from the Hummel Brothers out of Hamden, CT. Thiede makes his well-loved Calico Chicken and Furry Curry chicken salads as needed. Baked goods such as muffins cookies, coffee cakes, and croissants along with a variety of bagels are also available at Two Wrasslin’ Cats.
The café house offers “private” space in the back of the house for community gatherings, small parties, and open mic nights. He has also hosted fundraising Cabarets performed, by cast members from the nearby Goodspeed Opera House. Every Saturday morning between 10 and 11 am, prior to the Covid outbreak, TWC hosted The vigil, organized by a local group of activists known by the moniker “Together We Rise” is a non-partisan, non-violent gathering of people of all ages and backgrounds who believe in diversity, first amendment rights, religious freedom, women’s rights, and the unification of all people.
Anyone who pays Two Wrasslin’ Cats a visit or two will quickly realize that this place isn’t about the lattes, smoothies, “cappuccino,” or sandwiches. It’s the story of a man with a social conscience who chose to forego the financial security of the corporate world and forge his own path.