Running a business for man’s best friend
on July 29, 2010
Dogs of all sizes and breeds run unleashed, fetch balls, meet other dogs, swim and enjoy Point Isabel Park in Richmond. Afterwards, dogs and their owners can stop by the only businesses at Point Isabel: Mudpuppy’s Tub and Scrub, where the dogs can get baths, and the Sit and Stay Café, where their people can get coffee and food.
These two businesses, run by the same owners, are located one next to another in a small, one level rectangular building. The café is a walk-up counter with seating at a nearby patio. Mudpuppy’s is a pet store that has lots of dog toys, treats and supplies with bathtubs where the dogs get washed.
“You came here, you take your dog for a walk, it gets all dirty, then you wash your dog and then you go home. It’s a great location,” said Diane Blake who has been coming for a couple years to Point Isabel to walk her dog, Zoe.
“I love being in the East Bay, I love this community, I love dogs,” said Daniel Bergerac, one of the businesses’ three partners and owners. Bergerac, his husband Eddie Lundeen and long-time friend Todd Ahlberg run Mudpuppy’s and the café in cooperation with the East Bay Regional Park District.
Mudpuppy’s began about 15 years ago at Point Isabel, but it was much different back then. Original owners Cynthia Sloan and Holly Stockton started washing dogs in a small RV with one tub. A year later they got a 12 by 28 feet “mobile modular” with four tubs, a little sales counter and a ramp so that the dogs could come inside. Lundeen worked as their employee in 1997; soon after that the two original owners decided to move to the country and open a pet wash and a pet store.
Lundeen and Bergerac took over the business in 2000. Since then, they worked with the East Bay Regional Park District to build a permanent building for the dog wash. The park district also wanted to add a café; that became the building where Mudpuppy’s and Sit and Stay Café are now. A percentage of every sale goes to the park district and the building is owned by the East Bay Regional Park District.
“I loved this park even before we got the business. We were coming here with our dogs,” said Bergerac.
Before running Mudpuppy’s, Bergerac was an executive recruiter, and not thrilled to be sitting in an office for ten hours a day, he said. “It was good money but I wasn’t loving it. I just felt that I needed a job that I could love,” said Bergerac. “Finally I quit my recruiting job and started doing this full time and never looked back.”
Ahlberg joined the partnership more than a year ago. “I joined to help the company grow,” he said.
And the company has grown a lot over the last 15 years. Mudpuppy’s and the Sit and Stay Café now have 10 employees; seven work full-time. Mudpuppy’s sell toys, leashes, collars, training supplies, treats and nearly everything for dogs except food. The dog wash service is very popular. The washer will ask each new customer about their dog — if they have any skin or shedding problems or nail issues, for example. They make sure to pick the right shampoo. They do hair conditioning, nail trims and a flea dip if necessary. Weekends can get busy at the dog wash, so they recommend that people book online or walk in to make appointments.
The dog washers get to know their canine clients very well. Jay Villamor , who has been working at Mudpuppy’s and at the café for five years, said that when you have a regular customer, “the dogs tend to bond with you. It’s fun that way.” Villamor started working at the café and after two years was trained to work at the dog wash. “I fell in love with it, because working with a variety of different dogs is not the same as serving the same cup of coffee every day,” he said.
Bergerac said that there have been situations where bathers have spotted a dog’s health problem, like when Claudio Eleccion, a employee that had been working there for seven years, found a small tumor on a dog. “When the owner’s took him to the vet, they cut it out on time and the dog is still with us,” said Bergerac.
Ahlberg said that he knows the dogs’ names better than their owners’ names —“When we book the dogs for washes, we put the dog’s name, not the person’s name,” he said. He’ll address people by saying, “Hey, Fido’s dad!” Ahlberg thinks that the dog owners enjoy it. “They like that we are all about the dogs,” he said.
The Sit and Stay Café does have some treats for humans — a full espresso menu plus chili, soups, deli sandwiches, hot dogs, ice cream, smoothies, and bagels. “Boy, do we sell bagels,” said Bergerac.
“I think it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” said Simone Granada, who has worked at the café for five years. She started working at the café because she liked the dogs, and found that her employers helped her go to college by giving her flexible work hours. Granada describes the work environment as being like a family, and a good place to network because business is always good and different people are always coming into the café.
“Having the café is like when you have a party and people congregate in the kitchen. It gives them some place to eat and have a good time,” Lundeen agreed. Bergerac said that people bring family and friends that are visiting from out of town “to see Mudpuppy’s, to see the café and to see how incredible this park is.”
Point Isabel is a 23-acre park at the west end of Central Avenue in Richmond. Visitors get a wide view of San Francisco, the Golden Gate and Marin County from the park. Its attractions include bird watching, fishing, jogging, running, bicycling, kite flying and picnicking— but the main attraction for locals is that it’s a place where dogs are allowed to run off-leash. (However, owners are expected to have a leash with them and have their dog under voice control and within their sight.)
People come to the park all the time, even during weekdays and the winter, but the place is filled up on sunny days, specially Sundays. On weekends people start arriving at 8 am. People drive in from as far as Walnut Creek and Concord; Mudpuppy’s owners say they have seen people come from Sacramento when it’s too hot down there during the summer.
Tameka Beaudreaux, who’s been coming to the park for about two years, didn’t know about Point Isabel until she got a dog. She drives from West Oakland to Point Isabel three times a week. She likes Mudpuppy’s services. “They seem to have a good rapport with all the dogs and take good care of them,” she said.
There is a community of dog owners who keep coming week after week. “We’ve seen people that have met at the park, then they start showing up at the park together, then they get married, then we see their kids, then we see their second dog and then their third dog,” said Bergerac.
The dog walkers have become a community of friends for Mudpuppy’s owners. “After we got married, we kept it very quiet”, said Bergerac referring to his wedding to Lundeen. “A couple park users found out about it and they threw a wedding party for us at their home,” he said.
Next week they are going to the 90th birthday party of one of the park’s users. “It’s an honor to be that much part of someone’s life that they want to share with us,” said Bergerac.
Mudpuppy’s become so successful that the partners are now expanding their business to other parks. “Suddenly the company started to grow without expecting it or planning it,” said Ahlberg. They opened two cafés with regional parks, Lake Anza Beach Club last year and Contra Loma Beach Club this year. “It’s a fun job and we think we add a lot to the ambiance of the parks,” Ahlberg said.
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