Haute Diggity Dog

updated 05/16/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/1994 01:00AM

YES, THEY DO SERVE HOT DOCS—vegetarian hot dogs—at the Puppy Hut in Toledo, Ohio, the fast-food spot for Spot.

Founded in June 1992 by partners Jackie Zajac and Sheila Mullan, Puppy Hut boasts a Park and Bark picnic area, two drive-through windows and a sign reading Piles and Puddles Forgiven. It also has a loyal and growing following.

What the animal customers get is faux fast-food snacks ("chili dog," 99 cents; "fish and chips," $1.89; "porterhouse steak," $3.49) that is salt, sugar and preservative-free—and strictly vegetarian. Dogs over the age of 9 are entitled to a senior-citizen discount and, for owners whose pets don't need the walk, Puppy Hut delivers.

All great ideas spring from somewhere, and Puppy Hut's founders are quick to give credit for theirs to the animals. "I'd always go to drive-through restaurants, and I'd have my dog with me, and he'd act jealous," says Zajac, who has a yellow Lab named Buppy and a cat named Sneakers. "The animals wanted a treat, too," says Mullan, who lives with Rex, a German shepherd, and a cat named Cagney.

Zajac and Mullan, who had met in 1988 while volunteering for the Humane Society, were contemplating career changes because they wanted to work with animals. Zajac, now 29, was a financial analyst for IDS/ American Express, and Mullan, 37, was a computer programmer for Marathon Oil. After they discovered that 20 billion is spent on pets every year, their next step seemed obvious.

With an initial investment of $50,000 of their own money, they took over a Fotomat on Monroe Street and renovated it to make it animal-friendly. Now, encouraged by their success, they're looking for investors to open Puppy Hut franchises in other cities. After all, if every dog has his day, shouldn't he spend some of it doing lunch?

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