A black cat with white paws, belly and chin peeks from a first-floor window at 121 Cascadilla Street. From the outside, it looks like a regular home; but on the inside, it’s a sanctuary for Ithaca’s visiting vegans and conscious travelers.
The recently opened Tuxedo Cat Bed & Breakfast—affectionately named after cats like Neo, the one in the window—is Downtown Ithaca’s only vegan bed and breakfast. Owner Amber Gilewski vacationed in the area for years before deciding to relocate to Ithaca, teach psychology at Tompkins Cortland Community College, and open a B&B.
“I figured with my love of vegan cooking, I have a pretty big house, taking care of the cats, that’s kind of a good way to combine all my loves,” Gilewski said.
Gilewski has been vegan for over 10 years, and developed an interest in cooking shortly after making the lifestyle change. She became a certified Natural Chef at the Natural Kitchen Cooking School in Princeton, New Jersey.
“I always said I loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian at one point,” she said. “I was like, how can I say I love animals, but then I eat animals or I pay people to do terrible things to animals that I would never do.”
Once she decided to open a vegan B&B, Gilewski reached out to Gita Devi, innkeeper at the next closest vegan B&B—Ginger Cat Bed & Breakfast in Rock Stream, NY, near Watkins Glen. Devi previously worked at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, and said the demand for this niche hospitality experience is there.
“With the growing awareness of vegan diets and lifestyle and the increasing number of people who are trying to change their diets or eat more of a 100% plant-based diet, the demand for vegan B&B’s is also growing,” she said.
Over 95% of Gilewski’s guests are vegetarians and vegans, she said, and they are excited to stay at a place where they don’t have to constantly ask what’s in the food.
Kristy Mitchell, representative from the Ithaca Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said the number of bed and breakfasts in Ithaca continues to rise.
“I think that the local bed and breakfasts provide an opportunity to have a larger number of rooms available for people that are in great areas,” she said. “It also gives people a different experience for people that may or may not want to stay at a traditional hotel.”
Staying at Tuxedo Cat, however, is about more than eating vegan and having a place to sleep within walking distance of the Ithaca Commons and Farmer’s Market—it’s about leaving a positive mark.
Gilewski rescues cats with the feline leukemia virus, an autoimmune virus which suppresses their immune systems and can be passed onto other cats. For this reason, many people give up infected cats, and even no-kill shelters will euthanize them.
The four cats currently housed there need extra attention on their health. These vet bills add up, and the revenue from the bed and breakfast helps Gilewski continue to make rescues.
Tuxedo Cat Bed and Breakfast is zoned for two bedrooms, but currently only offers one for guests. Gilewski said she is working on furnishing the second bedroom in the same way as the first—with locally made, re-used or recycled materials, and a latex bed (which she said is more eco-friendly than other options). Gilewski and her husband also compost everything and installed solar panels on their house, as well as maintain a vegan household.
Guests can expect cruelty-free toiletries, no leather or other animal-hide products, and vegan breakfast options like shiitake bacon risotto or vegan pancakes. Gilewski said one of her specialties is a vegan “McMuffin.”
Guests of Tuxedo Cat B&B do not leave without something to remember their stay and continue their conscious lifestyle; Gilewski gives them the choice between DVDs of two vegan documentaries by local filmmakers.
The response has been positive so far, and Gilewski said she has three bookings coming up within the next month alone.
“I seem to attract people who love cats, vegans, to say it affectionately, crazy cat ladies like myself… they really seem very interested and willing to stay here.”