No more begging for treats. Dogs now have restaurants.
By Christina Morales
To celebrate the 10-month anniversary of the successful spinal surgery on Jagger, her goldendoodle, Cat Torrejon-Nisbet didn’t buy him the traditional rawhide dog bone. Instead, she paid $15 for a light pink, rose-shaped dog pastry made with antelope heart from Dogue, a canine restaurant in San Francisco.
“They’re not going to love you more for giving them a fancy treat,” said Torrejon-Nisbet, 50, who lives in Santa Barbara, California, with Jagger and his Bernedoodle sister, Sierra. “It’s more about the love we have for our dogs.”
Dog owners like Torrejon-Nisbet are frequenting an increasing number of restaurants across the country that offer separate menus for their four-legged family members. Dog menus have become the new version of children’s menus at some restaurants. Pet parents can now order their dog a steak or Alaskan salmon with steamed rice. The dog can wash that down with a nonalcoholic “beer” made of pork broth, or a bowl of Dög Pawrignon made with wild-caught-salmon oil.
Other restaurants have gone a step further, catering exclusively to dogs, from custom canine birthday cakes to food trucks serving chicken nuggets and burgers. At Dogue, dogs eat a fine-dining tasting menu.
Kelly Lockett, 32, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, has taken Benji, her mini schnauzer mix, to several New York restaurants with dog menus, including Judy Z’s in Greenwich Village.
“He gets so happy, and he enjoys spending time with us and not spending time home alone,” she said.
The pandemic has prompted an increase in pet ownership, according to a 2021-22 survey by the American Pet Products Association, which found dogs in about 65.1 million U.S. households. Sales of pet products have risen by $46 billion since 2018, according to the association, which predicted they will reach $143.6 billion this year.
In San Francisco, Jason Villacampa, 40, has treated his corgis, Tony and Captain, to the tasting menu at Dogue four times. It costs $75 per dog, with complimentary sparkling water or mimosas for the owner.
On a recent visit, Villacampa said, the chef, Rahmi Massarweh, explained the dishes the dogs were about to eat, detailing which local farm provided each ingredient and how each meal was prepared. He served bone broth tableside and put the finishing touches to plates like mosaic chicken, thin strips of white meat wrapped in nori, layered together and cooked in a water bath. Massarweh, a chef for 20 years, trained in French cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco.
Dog menus provide a new revenue source for restaurants. The Wilson, in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, estimates that it serves meals to most of the 30 to 40 dogs that come in every day. A dog entree of steak and vegetables costs $24.
Despite recent inflation, 54% of dog owners said they were willing to spend more to provide their dogs with a more nutritious, whole-food diet that aligns more with their household’s health choices, according to a small survey a year ago by Rover, a pet-sitting service. Rover also said that dogs have become a substitute for children in many households.
“Pets are members of our family, and we equally want to feed them that way,” said Ron Holloway, who owns Woofbowl, a food truck based in Dumbo, Brooklyn, that caters to dogs.
Holloway and his wife, Solo Holloway, a former biochemical and electrical engineer, started the mobile restaurant after making more nutritious meals from scratch for their French bulldogs, Latto and Dino. Holloway, a military veteran, and his wife, a Cambodian refugee, adopted the dogs as part of his treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Just as some people celebrate their birthdays or holidays at restaurants, many dog owners do the same for their pets. Owners order custom cakes — like one shaped as a ramen bowl for a Shih Tzu named Ramen — from businesses like Maison de Pawz in New York, a dog bakery and catering company where they can choose from flavors like peanut butter, Funfetti, coconut, spiced apple or carob (chocolate is toxic to dogs). The dense cakes are made with buckwheat flour and coconut oil, and though humans can eat it, they probably wouldn’t like the taste, said Mei-i Zien, the owner of the bakery.
To comply with health department regulations, the pet-focused restaurants in New York City serve just dog-only items or prepare meals for pets and people separately. At Judy Z’s and the Wilson, dogs and their owners are seated at tables outside, and the food is served in dog bowls that must be placed on the ground.
At Boris & Horton in the East Village, which serves Zien’s treats, dog items and pastries for humans are prepared by a separate staff and served on disposable plates to prevent cross-contamination. Logan Mikhly, a founder of the dog cafe, said the city’s health department was “helpful with what we had to do to make it happen with a strict list of things we follow to a T.”
When Joey, a Yorkshire terrier, visits New York City, his owner Rachel Choi, 25, usually takes him to socialize at a dog park on the Lower East Side. But Choi said he makes it clear, with his whining at the entrance, that he doesn’t want to be there. He wants to go to Boris & Horton, which has air-conditioning, to enjoy a peanut butter cupcake and have other people pet him.
“He just seems to have a bright mood there in a way that he doesn’t have anywhere else,” she said.