Believe it or not, you can special-order a cake for your dog. Why would you do such a thing? Unconditional love.
SEATTLE’S HOTTEST NEW food truck sells adorable, handcrafted baked goods, made fresh with love daily at the crack of dawn. High-quality, local ingredients come from places like Bob’s Red Mill; for a treat in the heat, sundaes feature ice cream specially made by Full Tilt. The vintage sky-blue Chevy sells out almost every day, with customers too excited to properly line up, instead running in circles, sniffing each other and begging. Sometimes a bandit (or maybe a Bandit) jumps aboard and eats as much as possible before being captured, petted and ejected.
The Seattle Barkery is a food truck for dogs. A sane human’s reaction to its existence might be the world’s biggest eye-roll, possibly followed by an existential crisis. Disenfranchisement has given us Donald Trump; now there’s this, just to put the icing on the income-inequality cake?
Speaking of cake, the Barkery makes that too, by special order — cakes for dogs. They have cream-cheese frosting and bacon sprinkles, with a dog-bone-shaped or chicken-foot topper; they’re served on a Frisbee. A small one is $30, large $40. (If your dog will share, you can have a piece, too: The Barkery uses human-grade ingredients. The treats I tried — yes, I ate dog food for this story — were rather bland and sandy-textured, as they’re all gluten-, salt- and sugar-free. My mom’s dog, however, swallowed the leftovers whole.)
Who is the consumer — or at least the one with the wallet and the opposable thumbs — in this exercise of end-stage capitalism? What kind of person buys their dog a cake?
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TURNS OUT, the average Barkery regular is pretty much the nicest person you could possibly imagine. And even before I met Maryann Stigen, her dog Dublin — a rescue Lab/chow mix — dropped at my feet and rolled around on my sneakers, gazing up at me rapturously, all fur and charm.
Stigen visits the truck at the Edmonds off-leash dog park every Friday. This dog park — an unbelievably gorgeous spot right on the Sound with fake fire hydrants and a doggy obstacle course — was one of the reasons she and her husband moved here. They plan their vacations around Dublin and Emmitt, a smaller, dignified Jack Russell/corgi mix who’s also a rescue; this summer, they’re all road-tripping through Glacier National Park and Yellowstone. Should the humans want to travel without the canines, the only acceptable dog-sitters are the president of the dog park or Stigen’s mom, who’ll fly in to do the honors.
“We’re those people,” Stigen admits. “If they have the slightest thing wrong with them, we’ll take them to the vet. ‘Our dog is coughing!’ ” she laughs uproariously.
Her husband’s gone in two-week stints working in Alaska, time when she says she’d “go nuts” without her two best friends.
“The companionship — I mean, it’s unconditional love. Isn’t that what everybody wants?” Stigen asks. “And they give it to you. … You don’t have to do anything to earn it. You just walk through the door from checking the mail, and it’s ‘You were gone for 10 years!’ ” she laughs.
Her dogs aren’t very discriminating when it comes to the Barkery’s goods. “They love everything!” Stigen enthuses. Today she’s picking up a birthday cake for Emmitt. It comes with a paper birthday hat. Will he wear it? “Yes. Well, he’s gonna have to!” she laughs. “For a picture at least!”
But how do you know the birthday of a dog who’s been rescued? Stigen guesses Emmitt’s 7. “Today is actually my dad’s birthday,” she says. “He would’ve been 70. So … it just sounded like a good way to still celebrate somebody that I love.”
WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE come up with the idea for a dog food truck? Barkery owners Dawn and Ben Ford met while in the restaurant industry; she’d worked at dog-friendly Norm’s in Fremont. Then they ran a dog-walking business for years. After mass-market dog treats started getting recalled (for, absurdly, problems such as being choking hazards), Dawn began baking her own. The owners of the dogs they walked wanted to buy the treats, and they started selling at farmers markets, too.
A food truck for canines was the next logical step. The Seattle Barkery’s been on the road for a year now. The Fords didn’t anticipate the fame: local and national coverage, offers from two different production companies to do reality shows. Customers have made pilgrimages from as far away as California; the Barkery’s gotten requests to franchise from all over the United States, Canada and England.
Meanwhile, Dawn still gets up at 4 in the morning to bake the truck’s goods in their Shoreline home kitchen, a five-hour process. Ben makes “all the primal stuff”: the chicken feet, duck feet, chicken hearts and duck neck. Dawn developed recipes by trying them out on their three dogs — all rescues, two of them “super-picky.” (She’s eaten them herself, too, but she acknowledges they’re not really to humans’ taste.)
“People have spent a lot of money on treats that their dog didn’t like, or only liked once,” she notes. But with stuff like her PB & Banana Bones ($1.50 each) and Beefy Carrot Bagels ($2.50), the Barkery has provided “100 percent satisfaction” so far.
Every cent from the truck’s tip jar goes to local nonprofit Old Dog Haven — almost $3,000 in a year’s time. “It’s something we’re really proud of,” Dawn adds. Leftover treats, when they have them, have gone to Seattle Animal Shelter or to pets at a Shoreline tent city, where they’ve poured coffee for the people, too.
The Fords know they’re crazy dog-lovers; they say so right on their website. If you don’t like what they do, that’s all right. “Obviously, it’s not going to be for everyone, and we knew that going into it,” Dawn says. But they love it — the people and their pets, even the treat-thieving ones.
“Our number-one offender has come back, and he just leapt right on, like he knew exactly what he was doing,” Dawn says. “And we just returned him via the window — he’s a little pug.”