By KAT THOMPSON
Despite nearly 20 years of attempting to scrub Baha Men from the collective consciousness, the question of “who let the dogs out?” is especially relevant in 2019, where dog ownership in America is at an all-time high. At the end of 2016, the American Veterinary Medical Association found that nearly 58% of all American households have a dog -- the highest rate of dog ownership since the association began collecting data in 1982. And with the increase of our furry friends comes the increase of dog-related businesses -- pet costumes, dog carriers and harnesses, and of course, food. According to Forbes, dog-themed retailers are now a $72.1 billion dollar industry. And now dogs are getting in on our collective restaurant obsession.
It began simply enough: bars, restaurants, and breweries opened their doors for furry friends to have a seat at the table (or at least at the outdoor patio where they can dine alongside their owners). But as the popularity of pets grew in an era where millennials prioritize having pets over kids due to the rising costs of living, many of these establishments recognized an opportunity to cater more to the dog-friendly crowds: by offering menus specifically crafted for four-legged companions. Now at dinner or dessert, Fido doesn’t have to be left out while sitting under the table -- but can instead be gnawing on his own restaurant-provided treat.
One of these establishments is West-coast born chain Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, which now has over 30 locations across California, Texas, Nevada, Colorado, Georgia, and Illinois. “In our early days at the first Lazy Dog, we had one of our guests arrive with their dog while the health inspector happened to be in the restaurant,” Lazy Dog’s chief marketing officer, John Williams, recalled. “We took the opportunity to get permission from the health department to serve the dog on the patio.”
The dog-friendly patio took off, and Lazy Dog decided to incorporate a menu for the thousands of furry friends that would visit. That menu consists of grilled hamburger patties, grilled chicken, and brown rice -- all of which rings in at under $5 per plate, so your dog won’t go hungry as you dive into your own meal.
For dog enthusiasts that have dessert on the mind, Sprinkles Cupcakes has a solution. At the 22 Sprinkles Cupcakes bakeries across the nation, consumers can get their pooches their very own "pupcakes" so both dog and humans can indulge in baked sweets.
“When it comes to our best friends, what inspiration is more powerful than puppy-dog eyes?” posed Charles Craig, Sprinkles’ vice president of culinary. Since chocolate isn’t good for dogs, Craig dreamt up an alternative. The pupcake is sugar free and made from egg whites, buttermilk, vanilla, butter, and salt and topped with a yogurt frosting. “The pupcake allows you to share your Sprinkles moment with your whole pack.”
For humans that don’t want to be confined to sweet or savory food, burger behemoth Shake Shack also offers some perks for pups in both categories. “When we opened up our first Shack in Madison Square Park, so many of our guests showed up after taking their pets to the park’s dog run that we thought it would only be good hospitality to offer something to our four-legged friends as well,” explained Mark Rosati, Shake Shack’s culinary director. From there, the Pooch-ini was born: a frozen vanilla custard that features peanut butter sauce and dog biscuits.
It was such a hit -- especially the dog biscuits -- that Shake Shack partnered up with Bocce’s Bakery, a small-batch bakery that uses organic ingredients to make dog treats, to develop their ShackBurger biscuit and Bag of Bones menu item. The ingredients are all-natural and “human-grade” --they even including beef from Shack’s butcher in New York City. So even though they’re intended for your dog, you could arguably munch on them, too. (And in case you were wondering, yes, Rosati admitted to tasting every version developed himself.)
Grand Central Market LA
Though these large chain restaurants have found ways to cater to pooches, small ma & pop shops are opening their doors to dogs, too, and they aren’t limited to coastal enclaves. There’s Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden in Austin, The Watering Bowl in Denver, and Barrio in Chicago. The list goes on and on.
At Ollie’s Ice Cream + Stuff, a recently opened ice cream parlor in Brooklyn, New York, dogs and humans can get a scoop side by side. The idea came to owner Eric Kyriakopoulos upon realizing his neighborhood contained an abundance of bars and restaurants, but lacked dessert shops. As a bartender himself, Kyriakopoulos had dreams of opening up his own establishment -- but claims that ice cream kind of “fell into [his] lap” after constantly frequenting grocery stores to buy pint after pint of ice cream when craving something sweet.
“I really think we were just eating ice cream all day. And then the dog angle basically came from… fostering dogs.” Kyriakopoulos, alongside his girlfriend Isabel Klee -- who is a project manager for the massively popular humans-of-New York-style platform, The Dogist -- had fostered several dogs before adopting their own rescue, Simon (who is also wildly popular in his own right and can be considered Instagram famous, with nearly 60,000 followers). “We [fostered] some that had been severely abused; one didn’t even know how to play with toys. We had a couple of dogs that didn’t even enjoy treats or peanut butter, so one day we just looked up how to do alternative snacks for dogs. I came across dog-friendly ice cream and summer treats and then we put our own spin on it.”
The dog ice cream at Ollie’s clocks in at $2.50 per cup and is scooped separate from the human ice cream, so no need to worry about cross contamination -- not that there’s much to worry about because the ice cream is dairy-free and made from a blend of frozen bananas, organic peanut butter, and either pureed pumpkin or sweet potato. There are eight human flavors to choose from, too, so your dog won’t be the only one indulging.
“I always wanted a dog named Ollie,” Kyriakopoulos explained, but none of the dogs he had growing up really fit the name -- nor did Simon. “When I met my girlfriend a couple years ago, she was showing me a list of names that she would want her dog to be named. And at the top of the list, Ollie was right there.” So even though Kyriakopoulos has yet to have a dog named Ollie, there’s satisfaction in knowing he’s the proud owner of Ollie’s Ice Cream + Stuff, where his frozen treats can put a smile on the faces of humans and dogs alike.
Other restaurants go the extra mile by not only providing dog-specific menus, but also giving fostered mutts a shot at a permanent home. Fido’s Tap House in Tigard, Oregon, a suburb of dog-obsessed Portland, offers humans and dogs brews and bites while providing a space for rescued pups to roam free and possibly find their forever homes with one of the bar’s patrons. Dogs, brews, and food -- it’s a match made in heaven (where all dogs go) and seems like the next logical step as pet culture crosses over into the food world. This is a bar where you can have a couple drinks and take home a lifelong pet (or at least the paperwork for one) rather than a random hookup. And as more and more bars and restaurants cater to dogs and their best friends, it seems like a glimpse into the future of a trend that will continue to grow.
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