By Lauren Wong
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3030 S Rural Rd, Tempe

This is a place that very happily surprised me. This cafe brings together two unlikely pairings; snakes and shakes. I want to preface this by saying that I do not like snakes, they creep me out, so going into this interview I was definitely feeling uneasy. 

My plan was to just stop in, talk with the owners, snap some pictures, enjoy a coffee and head home. I ended up not only holding one of their snakes, but staying for a few hours just talking with Co-Owners, Dee Penkey and Elisa Benitez. 

I can’t say that now I love snakes, but having them walk me through holding them, and learning about them, my fear lessened. (I would still run the other way if I saw one in the wild).

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If I had to choose one word to describe the owners it would be passionate. These are two individuals that absolutely love what they’re doing, and everything they do comes from their heart. I walked in alone and immediately was welcomed by their kindness and positivity, and surprisingly, I felt right at home, even in a room full of snakes. 

Once I concluded the interview, I spent hours asking more and more questions, just so intrigued by this business idea, and these individuals personally (and what it’s like owning all these snakes). Even if you don’t like snakes or are afraid, I really suggest checking this place out. You don’t have to interact with the snakes. You can just come in and enjoy one of their delicious shakes or tea drinks.

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The excitement in their voice as they talk about what they love radiates off of them, it’s contagious. So I’ll let them tell you about their unique place that opened in March of 2022.

Q & A With Co-Owners Dee Penkey and Elisa Benitez

Q: How would you describe your cafe? 

A: Penkey- We’d say that the atmosphere is like a peaceful Amazon, we want to make it feel as though you’re walking into the jungle. We keep it warm, not too humid, and we play nice, chill music. 

Benitez- We want you to be at peace when you come in and excited for the experience. We also do meditation to add that calm state.

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Q: What gave you guys the idea and passion to start this cafe? 

A: Penkey- We had snakes in the house, and people would always be like “oh my God! Snakes!” We noticed that most people we came in contact with were afraid of snakes. We know that’s a big fear, so what we want to do is pretty much dispel that. We wanted to give people a safe space where they can come and get over that fear. 

A lot of people will tell you they’re afraid of snakes, but they don’t know why. They’ve never had any experience with snakes, they’re just afraid of them. We’ve seen that they have cat and dog cafes in the valley, but nowhere in America do they have a snake cafe. They have them in Thailand, but we are the first in America. We just wanted to take our passion and educate people. 

Benitez- She had snakes first, and I was part of that stigma of “I’m terrified, I don’t think I could ever hold one,” but within like no time, I came in and was holding, carrying, protecting, sharing with people, and helping people. If you’re terrified to hold it, then just touch it, and we’ll go from there to fully holding it.

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Q: Why snakes? 

A: Penkey- I didn’t have them growing up, I was a part of those people that were totally afraid of reptiles in general growing up, but I’m also one of those people that if I can’t explain my fear then I need to hit it head on. 

What drew me into snakes was when I really got into yoga and meditation. What they really mean is peace, tranquility, and renewal. I was going through a phase in my life where I was trying to recreate my life and show that growth, and that’s what they symbolize. That’s what initially drew me into snakes. That’s why we tie in meditation.

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Q: What are your long and short-term goals for Infinity Shakes?

A: Penkey- We opened this as a passion project, so I wouldn’t even say that we have all these long-term goals set out. We just want to educate as many people as we can in the valley, and just get our name out there. Down the line we’d want to have more than one, Phoenix is a growing place, but I think in America [it’s said that] about 9.1% of people have a fear of snakes. 

Eventually we want to be a place where people can surrender their snakes. A lot of people get snakes and don’t understand the commitment. Snakes can live up to 30 years, and a lot of these snakes can get really, really large.

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Q: Is there anything in particular that you’d like to share that stands out about your cafe? 

A: Penkey- We have energy drinks, so we do have a place where you can come and hang out, like a Starbucks. But, what makes us unique from a Starbucks, aside from the snakes, is we do have those healthy options. We specify not just on meditation, and your physical health, but also your mental health; we do everything. 

When you come and get one of our tasty shakes, they’re going to be healthy for you, but without feeling like you’re eating grass. I think a lot of people think that they have to be one way of the spectrum or not, but here we can encompass everything for you and give you something totally different and unique.

Benitez- I used to be close to 300 pounds, and with the shakes alone in a short amount of time, I’ve lost about 80 pounds. Integrating meditation with it just helps you zone into everything; being more with the Earth, more healthy, more grounded.

I had been one of those people that thought in order to eat healthy I had to eat just like kale and salad, etc. It’s a new take on health.

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Q: Can you explain more about the experience you offer? 

A: Penkey- When you come in we will greet you, and the first thing we will do is take your order so we can get that started. Our kitchen is in a separate space. Then we will take them into the room where the snakes are housed, explain a little bit about how they’re housed, what their temperament is, and kind of guide them through it. 

Some people are really afraid, so we’ll tell them, okay so if you want a snake that’s going to give you a show at a table, this one would be a great starter snake for you. Or, if you have a bit of experience, and you want a snake that’s going to roll around, we’ll suggest a different one. We’ll seat you and then bring the snake to your table. We have table games, so you can play some games while you watch the snake and enjoy your food. Once they feel confident, we will take them to another room and they can either choose the snake on their table, or a different snake to spend time and take pictures with. It’s all at your own pace.

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Q: What do you hope that your guests will feel after visiting Infinity Shakes?
A: Benitez- I’d say that it depends on what they’re coming in for. If they’re rockstar snake people, I want them to walk away with a new kind of experience, like “okay, this was cool,” and then the people who come in terrified, I want them to feel like they conquered a fear. I want them to feel like they made a big step for themselves.

Because we do have a lot of people who are like “do I even walk in?” And then they’ll come in and it’s like “okay well I sat down with no snake at the table and I played some games. Then I thought, okay, now I’ll have it at the table.” 

So, it just depends what they come in with, but definitely always excited, always thrilled, to come back.

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Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

A: Penkey- We’re very passionate about everything that we do here. As you can see, it’s a smaller cafe, and we’re really trying to share our passion with the community. It’s not like “oh we have this idea that’s going to make us $10 million,” it’s that all of our snakes here are pets. We’re not trying to sell snakes, we don’t breed snakes, etc, these are all my snakes. They’re loved, they’re cared for, etc.

You can book your 30 minute experience for $20 a person online, or just stop in to check it out!

For more information, visit their website.