I first met Courtney Browning when I took my dogs to Sunday brunch at Providence Social – one of Buffalo’s most dog-friendly restaurants. She walked over and said how much she liked the pups. Hence, we struck up a conversation that revolved around our love of animals, which is when she told me that she owned a dog treat business called First Mate Dog Treats.
Eventually, I decided to reach out to Courtney, to ask her how businesses was faring. She told me that after two years in the baking business, things were starting to bustle. But before we talked too much about the current state of affairs, I wanted to know how she had come to start the enterprising dog treat concept.
“I was going to school to be a vet tech,” she told me. “I was working at an animal hospital – I always wanted to help animals. I was studying animal medicine. At the same time, when people would ask me, ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?, my response would always be, ‘I would open a dog bakery.’ At one point, I wondered what I was waiting for, so I began to save up money, by going back to restaurant serving.”
Wanting to open a dog bakery is one thing. Doing so is another. How exactly does one go from having the dream, to realizing that dream?
“I always made my dogs birthday cakes,” Courtney replied. “I knew a lot about animal nutrition, and I researched every article that I could get my hands on. I winged it and came up with a few recipes – some hits and some misses. I also talked to dog bakers in different states and countries. It was important to learn from my peers.”
I asked Courtney where her baking facility was located, upon which she told me, “My house. The kitchen has been taken over by the business. I bought a new professional oven… it’s the main focus of my day. Every once in a while (for bigger jobs), I go to a commercial kitchen, but that’s tough because it’s not about the space and the equipment as much as it’s about getting the help. I tend to hover over everyone, because I’m a perfectionist. I work way more than 40 hours a week – I’m always in the kitchen baking, but it’s what I enjoy. The only time that I ever get nervous about keeping up with demand is during the holidays, when there are multiple markets each week. I try to get ahead, baking what sells the most.”
And what is selling the most currently? Bills treats!
“The ‘Let’s Go Buffalo’ Bills biscuits are (fresh) peanut butter and (real) bacon flavor,” said Courtney. “The dogs love it. It’s the first thing that we sell out of at the markets. We also sell treats at the Buffalove shop and the Totally Buffalo Store. The biscuits can be found in the Cookies & Cream ‘doggie dish,” as well as at a couple of groomers in the southtowns. I’m in communication with some new shops… and I’ve got some relationships in the works with some bigger companies – I should have more news on that soon.”
Aside from selling at farmers markets and pop-up events all over town, Courtney is hoping to, one day, have her own brick and mortar dog bakery.
“I’m working towards that goal,” she said. “It will be like a human bakery, with lots of different items. There will be a backyard, where people and dogs can hang out and try out the treats. We would also have some treats for the people. There’s nothing like it in Buffalo at the moment. It would be something that’s more interactive. People would look forward to visiting to see what the new flavors are, and the dogs would get to enjoy freshly baked treats. When dogs would see the building, they would get excited, like they do when they see the stand at the markets. It would bring happiness to a lot of spoiled dogs.”
“When the oven goes off, Harley knows it’s his turn to try something. I also try out the treats,” said Courtney [laughing]. “They are made from human grade ingredients, and people are always asking if I would eat one.”
Along with the spoiled dogs, Courtney is always trying to help the dogs that are not so fortunate. She attends as many pf the rescue events as she can, and donates $5 of every t-shirt sold to different local rescues.
“I owe so much of my success to the people (and dogs) of Buffalo,” she told me. “Everyone has been so supportive. I have regular customers who always seek me out at the different events. This has been such a great experience. I’m looking forward to next year, when I believe I will be in a totally different spot.”
I’m rooting for Courtney and can’t wait to learn about her anticipated future successes. My two dogs feel the same way, because they are also of the belief that supporting local is the best way to get the yummiest, most wholesome, and freshest treats around.
Get connected: First Mate Dog treats