OLD MOTHER HUBBARD WENT TO the cupboard to fetch her poor dog a...honey-flavored Snicker Poodle? She might have if she had lived in Kansas City, Mo., home of the Three Dog Bakery. Owned by Mark Beckloff, 30, and Dan Dye, 35, the pooch emporium specializes in all-natural dog delicacies.
Near the gumball machine dispensing dog biscuits (flavors include oatmeal raisin) and the bins of Scotty Biscottis, the pair oversee display cases of St. Bernard Bars (peanut butter squares with yogurt frosting), Collie Flowers (carob cookies) and 50 other kinds of sugar-free pooch pastries—all cunningly modeled on their human counterparts. Since opening in August 1990, they've created a $1 million-plus a year business, with five more stores (three in Chicago, one each in Kansas City and Wichita, Kans.) opening by July. Their 25,000 mail-order customers include Oprah Winfrey's eight dogs.
Going into business was a big leap for Dye, who worked in marketing, and Beckloff, a former accountant. "We didn't have any savings or baking experience," says Dye, "just a vision." That was inspired by their dogs—Gracie the Great Dane, Dottie the dalmatian and Sarah the black Lab mix, all rescued from the pound. Buying biscuits for them (the trio otherwise eat premium canned food), Beckloff found that "I couldn't pronounce 40 of the 50 ingredients. I wanted treats with ingredients I could identify."
Guided by veterinarians, the pair began developing an all-natural vegetable beef biscuit in the kitchen of their shared colonial house and later progressed to ingredients like spinach, coconut and fresh peanuts. Soon neighbors' pets were literally sniffing out routes to their door. From its first day, the store has drawn crowds. "I bake biscuits for my dogs," says Shawn Horner of Eagle River, Alaska, who stocks up each year while visiting relatives. "But they don't like them nearly as much as the ones I buy here."
Dye and Beckloff now oversee a staff of 17, who fill requests even from Hollywood hounds: the new Lassie recently celebrated with a carob-chip birthday cake. Sarah, Gracie and Dottie test every recipe when they aren't out back with other employee pets in the on-site kennel. A different breed, though, has been known to be fooled. "When a woman came in two straight days, I asked her what kind of dog she had," says Dye. "She got a sick look on her face. She had no idea the cookies she and her boyfriend had eaten weren't for people."
PAM GROUT in Kansas City