For dog owners in New York City, leaving the apartment often results in (literal) puppy-dog eyes begging “please don’t go.” But there’s no need to leave man’s best friend at home when heading out to brunch or for an afternoon coffee.
Though restaurants with outdoor seating may allow dogs under the table, along with an eye roll when you ask for a bowl for water, eateries have opened up that are based around sharing a dining experience with your pooch.
From beef bourguignon to froyo to peanut butter cream cheese cupcakes, city dogs may soon be eating even better than the rest of us.
Puppy — and city — friendly
Château Le Woof in Astoria, Queens, started about five years ago and was arguably the first of its kind in the city. Owner and founder Natassa Contini’s original location was more like a pet store that served coffee (where you could bring your dog, of course). As with most entrepreneurial ideas, the concept evolved out of necessity.
“I would walk my dog King and go and search for a cup of coffee, but there was no good coffee in the neighborhood,” she said of the less-trafficked area of Astoria she lives in, down by the East River. “I even tied King up outside somewhere once and someone actually tried to take him. Then one day I had a dream and it just clicked, I thought ‘oh my gosh, a dog café’.”
When a space opened up at the bottom of her building a year and a half ago, she was able to fully execute her vision. Château Le Woof offers pet products, services like walking, grooming and training education, a fenced-in area indoors where dogs can play and customers can hang out (you must sign a waiver before you bring your dog in), and a gourmet coffee shop that also serves full-fledged brunch on weekends (for humans AND dogs).
What makes the dog café health-code compliant is the two completely separate spaces for dogs and food prep. Though people can eat with the dogs, the café is through a totally separate entrance and part of the building, so any drinks or food being made have no danger of being contaminated with dander.
This is how the newer Boris & Horton in the East Village also functions. No dogs are allowed in the café side, but in the dog-friendly side, pups are free to roam between bistro tables and booths. Customers can order on an app (or at the register) and then pick up from a walk-up window in between the two sides. A rep from the NYC Department of Health also confirmed the arrangement, saying they are only concerned with the food safety aspect of this type of business, and don’t have anything to do with the dog side. “The dog area must be separate and enclosed from the area where food is stored, prepared and served,” they said. “No dogs (aside from an individual’s service dog) are allowed in the food area.”
Co-owner Logan Mikhly says they also thought very carefully about the interior design — with cement floors, wipeable vinyl upholstery and some more … unique architectural details.
“Everything in here was designed with dogs in mind … nothing is too difficult to clean. We also try to avoid ‘corners’ since that’s where dogs tend to lift their legs,” she said with a laugh. “We’ve also realized people need to keep their jackets hung up on chairs [not fall to the floor] … it’s been a fun learning curve.”
They also kept it very social-media friendly, with colorful walls, local art displays and even a dog GIF photo booth with silly props.
For both cafes, offering delicious “human” food and coffee was equally important.
Château Le Woof does this by providing La Columbe coffee and employing talented baristas — who are also experts in latte art. That creativity continues in their rotating drink menu, with items such as Blueberry Matcha Lemonade and Popcorn Cold Brew.
“The first thing we knew is that the coffee and food and drinks had to be really good,” Mikhly said of Boris & Horton. “Because we knew people would come in and check it out, but they’re not going to return if the coffee isn’t up to their standards. And there are so many coffee options in New York.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean they didn’t have fun expanding normal dog food choices — these meals are not your typical crunchy kibble.
At Château Le Woof, dogs can literally eat alongside their owners at weekend brunch. While dog moms and dads chow down on eggs Benedict, their pup might enjoy a plate of chicken or beef bourguignon (without spices and with more veggies added), created by their chef. They also serve dog cakes (and host birthday parties), pupsicles (doggy Popsicles that are also human-grade), and a “raw bar” that offers freeze-dried raw items like pig snouts and turkey necks.
Some leading food chains are also jumping on the trend. Shake Shack serves “Poochini” ice cream, and now offers Bocce’s Bakery “Bag-O-Bones” dog biscuits (neither are advertised on the menu; you have to ask). Every Shake Shack with a patio is dog-friendly, with many locations including dog “parking spots,” water bowls, treats and more. Due to health code restrictions, only service animals are allowed inside.
Bocce’s founders, Andrea and Natalia Tovar, said the ShackBurger Dog Biscuit was purposely crafted to taste like a dog-friendly version of the real signature ShackBurger.
“We worked with the head of culinary at Shake Shack, Mark Rosati, on the recipe and taste,” they said. “[There were] a lot of early morning dog treat tastings as we played with the recipe and the ingredients and we landed on a meaty treat with freshly roasted beef, chopped carrots and lots of cheese. They are wheat-free for pups with allergies and limited ingredients so they are healthy for dogs.”
Cupcake mainstay Sprinkles also offers “pupcakes” made with egg whites, buttermilk, vanilla, sugar substitute, butter, salt and a yogurt frosting, which dog customers are welcome to wolf down on-premises.
Like a human
One common thread that accentuates the very idea behind the “dog café” creation in the first place is that dogs should be treated more like humans. Both Contini and Mikhly say they know their regular dog customers just as well as their accompanying humans — their names, regular orders, etc.
And, most dog treat options can actually be eaten by humans (though that’s not recommended, as they would be a bit bland).
All treats at Boris & Horton, made by maison de pawZ, use human-grade ingredients. They offer treats like cream cheese and peanut butter cupcakes, peanut butter and carrot doughnuts, and beef-broth filled “Pop-Tart” look-alikes.
“We wanted anything that you serve to your dog to look like something you would eat,” Mikhly said.
Also, like any normal “human” bar, they even hold trivia on Thursday nights and serve beer and wine.