Beardog Café began with caring for a friend in need

DENNIS STRANACK

Beardog Café, newly opened on Main Street in Lillooet, is a happy ending to a story that didn’t start out that way.

“In 2008 my dog Raven got really sick,” founder and owner Stella Garcia explained.

“We brought her in to the vet, she spent 10 days in emergency care, she lost 14 pounds, she had two surgeries; they found out she had pancreatitis so then for the next year she was on a cancer-type medication.”

It was those medical complications that led to the signature dog treat that, in turn, led to everything else.

“She had to have a strict diet and we felt bad for her because if we gave her any kind of store-bought treat her pancreatitis would flare up, so my sister suggested we try to bake her some gingerbread.”

Gingerbread because ingredients like cinnamon, ginger and cloves are good for digestion. Garcia used rye flour because it’s low in gluten and easy to digest and the blackstrap molasses in the treats is rich in nutrients.

“To our surprise she could digest them, and then our friends’ dogs with either allergies or skin conditions, stomach sensitivities, they were able to eat them.”

That success within Garcia’s (and Raven’s) circle of friends prompted her to offer the treats at a farmers’ market in Edmonton, where she lived at the time. She had two dogs at the time, Raven and Beardog, so the market stand was dubbed Beardog Café and the treats, at that time, were called Raven’s Gingerbread.

“That summer, at our first market, we had retailers who wanted our stuff and at the farmers market we were selling out each week. At that point I knew I wanted a retail outlet at some point in time,” Garcia said.

“So, I built the business and a few times I had to scale it back because it grew so fast, I couldn’t keep up with it.”

Beardog Café was set aside for a few years for personal reasons, and it was during that time that Lillooet came into the picture – and was a sufficiently stunning picture to make it the new setting for the Beardog story.

“My sister ended up moving here a year ago, she saw this building… she bought it and then she called me and said ‘do you want to go halves with me on this building? Let’s do something with it.’ So that’s how I came here and I decided this is where Beardog Café is going to open its first retail store.“

Back for a moment to her sister moving to Lillooet because it says something about this place.

Patricia Bidaisee was a hiking guide in Jasper before coming here, which she did at the request of a group of Japanese tourists who wanted to hike locally and wanted to do it with her as their guide.

“She’d never heard of Lillooet. So, she brought them here, did her research, took them on a hike, fell in love with Lillooet, and then about four weeks after I moved to Calgary to be closer to her in Jasper, she said ‘oh, I’m moving to Lillooet’ and then I followed shortly after.”

Beardog Café was originally conceived as an actual café, but the gingerbread took over, the original inspiration still represented in the name and the coffee-cup packaging of the dog treats, which are still baked by hand in small batches at the back of the store.

The whole undertaking has had a life of its own from the start and the opening in Lillooet in July was no exception.

“I said to my sister ‘let’s just do a soft opening, we’re not ready, we don’t have the pictures on the walls, we don’t have all the stock we want’ but I said ‘let’s open the door slowly and then we can slowly learn how to use our POS and all that other stuff’ but we opened the doors and we almost sold out of stuff in the first week and we’ve had to reorder a complete restock three times.”

The initial rush has levelled off to

“It’s been a bit slower this week, but not slow. It’s been nice because we can catch up a little bit.”

Catch up on baking gingerbread and stocking shelves with a good range of higher end dog and cat food brands and everything else pet, from leashes and harnesses to dishes, toys, dog camping gear including sleeping bags, and pretty well anything else you can thing of. There are even t-shirts for the two-legged, with more people clothing–Beardog branded–on the way.

“When I opened Beardog Café I knew I only wanted to sell quality pet food,” Garcia said.

“I didn’t want foods with fillers or that didn’t have a veterinary nutritionist on staff and a doctor on staff. It’s a little more expensive but it’s a much better dog food and you end up feeding your dog less because of it.”

Stella and Chewy dog food, despite being the second most expensive brand in the store, has become Beardog’s biggest seller, and the priciest kibble in the store, N&D from Italy, also has a following.

“It’s a very high-end brand, it’s been selling, we have a few really loyal customers on that one, Stella and Chewy has been the next best-selling brand.”

There is also an array of brands that come with a lower price tag, but only products that are also of very high quality.

“We do special orders for customers. If they don’t see it hear and they want it, we bring it in for them.”

Garcia has a background is in marketing and communications which has served her well in getting Beardog Café off the ground and in every step since. No less helpful has been her sister’s talent. Bidaisee is a gifted artist, in addition to a hard hiker, and has played a major role in presenting the business – everything from creating logos and designing the dog bandanas and the upcoming human clothing line to decorating the retail space.

Beardog Café, which donates regularly to various pet-based and other charities, can be found on Facebook and also has a fun and active Instagram account that’s well worth a follow.

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