How To Show Your Dog Love
By Lynn Wise
Photography by Leslie Hodge
There are few better ways to show your family how much you care than by sitting down to a good, wholesome meal together. That’s why one Austin family is making it its business to ensure furry family members are just as well fed--and loved--as the rest.
Brothers Jeff and Jay Springer and partner Flint Beamon will soon open Barkin’ Creek Dog Kitchen & Bath at 2153 S. Lamar, next to Patika. They’ve kept the mission simple:
“To feed our best friends better so they live a longer and healthier life.”
But as with the founding of most small businesses, the path to opening day has been anything but simple. It’s taken decades of experience for the trio to come together as the “perfect storm” of a team.
Jeff and Jay grew up with four-legged best friends in San Antonio, where their father dreamed of seeing his sons eventually go into business together. But life took the brothers down very different paths. Jeff moved to Austin for college and has considered it home ever since. After graduating, he worked in finance, advising small businesses on how to be profitable and successful. He moved constantly and lived in many of the nation’s major cities—including L.A., New York, and San Francisco—and abroad in Singapore and Sydney. But all the while he knew that he wanted to eventually settle down and that when he did he wanted a dog to be a part of the picture. Four years ago, what was once the eventual arrived, and Jeff moved back home to Austin and adopted pup Bea with partner, Flint.
Jay’s path was just as meandering and even more eclectic than his brother’s. He also traveled the world, dabbling in everything from aircraft mechanics to massage therapy. But his most important experience turned out to be his work over the years in restaurants. These days the three like to say that what Jay cooks up in the kitchen is “tested on humans, but for dogs.”
Animals were also integral to Flint’s upbringing on a peanut farm in Georgia. His contribution to the team is his extensive background in the hospitality industry. Growing up, Flint says, the hospitality the South is so famous for was seen more as a way of life than as a viable career option. For him, the concept became business after moving to New York City, where he began working as a corporate trainer for Houston’s Restaurant. Later he worked in marketing and PR for hospitality and lifestyle brands.
With the creation of Barkin’ Creek, all three are pulling from the knowledge they’ve individually gained over the years, while getting back to their roots and to what really matters: family.
As with many new ventures, the seeds for Barkin’ Creek were first planted by unmet personal need. Soon after adoption, Flint and Jeff’s canine friend, Bea, began suffering from some pretty severe food allergies and intolerances. But it was difficult finding quality dog food for sale. With the help of Jay, the two began extensive research on creating their own food, and the change that they saw in Bea was dramatic. “Like night and day,” Jay says. Though their recipes were formulated for internal health, the three say that the results were extremely evident externally as well. Her fur, her eyes, and her teeth all radically improved.
It seemed only natural that the group should want to share their successes with other pet owners and to fill a significant market gap. So they’ve spent the past two years perfecting their recipes, consulting with veterinarians and experts to make sure that the vitamin and mineral balance is just right, and planning their launch. All of Barkin’ Creek’s dog food and treats are formulated using real, human-grade ingredients, and that decision is about more than just health. It’s about ethics, too.
“Why feed your dog something you couldn’t eat yourself?” Jay asks. “They don’t have a voice. They can’t advocate for themselves. They can’t decide before they eat it how it’s going to affect them... For many people, these are their children, and so we wanted to provide a product that you would feel comfortable feeding your children. I mean that’s how serious we are about this.”
At the outset, all of Barkin’ Creek’s products will be made entirely in house and will be sold either fresh or frozen, but the team says they are considering stocking a few select products from outside vendors, such as dry food or dental chews—but only those that pass a rigorous vetting process. Eventually, they also hope to add delivery services.
The idea for Barkin’ Creek came from the food, but the founders have come to realize that the transparency they provide by being completely up front and honest about their ingredients is their real value add. It was an easy progression then to replicate and apply that transparency to other areas of pet care as well. And that’s how the initial idea for “Barkin’ Creek Dog Kitchen” expanded to include “Bath.”
Every pet owner knows how disquieting is it to have your dog shuttled back into a closed-off area when you drop them off to be groomed. You trust that the place you’re frequenting is treating your animal well, but there is always the worry that something could go awry. That’s why Jeff, Jay, and Flint have hired a well-known Austin groomer to lead their full-service grooming shop and why they plan to enclose the area in glass. They want owners to have full visibility into the shop’s services and into their pets’ experiences.
This makes the location on South Lamar ideal. The building, originally constructed in the 1960s, is currently undergoing a full renovation. When complete, it will feature an open kitchen, a retail section, and an upstairs area that will house a doggie daycare and the grooming services. The goal is to have the transparency the company strives for in its products and services be reflected in its space. Adding to that open concept, human and canine patrons of Barkin’ Creek will be treated to a full tour of the premises the first time they visit.
That way customers can have complete confidence that their pets are being taken care of whether they are there for training, for daycare, for grooming or for good eats.
When asked how other up-and-coming Austin entrepreneurs might duplicate the family’s success, Jeff says, “Just get started!” Jay and Flint add that aspiring business owners should also ask a lot of questions, persevere and find a mentor who can help them avoid the many pitfalls first-time business owners often fall into.
What the partners don’t explicitly say but what they clearly show by example, is that they believe in basing your business on a strong foundation of values. Though Barkin’ Creek was founded out of a kindness and appreciation for dogs, the partners say they are equally committed to treating their human employees and patrons with just as much love and respect. According to the team, hiring the right people for the right jobs, including a former licensed vet tech that will be stationed onsite, has been crucial to the process. After all, kindness is cyclical. And ensuring that employees are happy and well cared for will enable them to in turn provide the dogs the very best care possible.
Faced with the personal challenge of caring for their pets as members of the family, Jay, Jeff, and Flint identified a gap in the market when they were unable to find quality dog food. Believing in the importance of natural and wholesome nutrition for the entire family, they set out to create better products that met the high standards they set for themselves and their canine friends. They soon realized that the model could be applied to other areas of pet care as well, and they expanded their business plan to address the holistic needs of dogs and their owners. On opening day, the founders of Barkin’ Creek Dog Kitchen & Bath hope that their business fills a valuable niche and provides a much-needed service for Austin’s dog community – one that can eventually be scaled up and expanded to other areas of the city. However, they measure their success, there is sure to be plenty of tails wagging!
Barkin’ Creek will be opening its first retail location at 2153 S. Lamar Boulevard right next to Patika Coffee Shop this Summer! Stay tuned to their website barkincreek.com or @barkin_creek on Instagram for updates and more information about the grand opening.