A few weeks ago, I attended a media preview at newly opened Lazy Dog in Peachtree Corners. It’s the first of multiple Georgia outposts planned for the casual, American comfort-food chain that already has three dozen locations scattered around California, Colorado, Texas and Illinois.
Sure, I was interested in the restaurant’s shrimp and grits that use specialty blue corn from South Carolina miller Geechie Boy, as well as meatloaf made with grass-fed bison from Durham Ranches in Wyoming. Yet, what also piqued my curiosity was a menu not meant for me, but for dogs.
Part of the Lazy Dog concept, which launched in 2003, is that patrons can bring their four-legged friends with them on the patio, let them lap complimentary water from a bowl, and even order their pet a $4.95 meal of a grilled hamburger patty or chicken breast with brown rice. The dog menu is available at all Lazy Dog locations around the country, and it’ll debut in Peachtree Corners as soon as the restaurant gets permitting approval.
Ever since Georgia’s Department of Public Health changed the rules a few years ago to allow dogs in outdoor dining areas, instead of outside the patio perimeter, plenty of metro Atlanta restaurants have welcomed dogs with open arms, setting out ample water for the tail-waggers and even offering them special treats. But, a menu for them takes dog-friendliness to new heights.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Pet ownership is on the rise. According to the American Pet Products Association, nearly 85 million households have a pet and, in the past 30 years, pet ownership has increased from 56% to 68% of all households. People who treat their pet as a beloved member of the family are sparing no expense. In 2018, pet-care spending reached a record high of more than $72 billion, a 4% increase from the previous year.
“Today, more than ever, pet owners view their pets as irreplaceable members of their families and lives, and it’s thanks to this that we continue to see such incredible growth within the pet care community,” APPA President and CEO Bob Vetere said in a prepared statement when the organization released the report in March.
This growing adoration for felines and canines has inspired many entrepreneurs to launch businesses that cater to folks who cater to their furry friends. (Who’s up for a trip to the nearest cat cafe? Need any CBD oil for your dog’s arthritis?).
Stephen Ochs is one of those entrepreneurs. Last year, the Marietta native opened Fetch Park & Ice House, a multi-acre commercial dog park and bar located on the corner of Boulevard and Decatur Street in the Old Fourth Ward. It is the ultimate place for pets and their owners to unwind.
On a sunny weekday afternoon in late August, a dozen dogs ran loose on green turf, chasing tennis balls and smelling each other’s butts. Meanwhile, their human parents lounged in the shade of patio umbrellas and airy, cabanaesque wood structures with metal roofs, some sipping coffee from local roaster Firelight, others kicking back with a beer. It was a big ol’ puppy play date.
“You are so limited in places you can take your dog. This is a place where people and their pups can both unleash and unwind,” said Ochs, the son of dog breeders and owner of 12-year-old boxer Oakley, who holds the title of CEO (canine engagement officer) at Fetch.
The inspiration for Fetch came when Ochs, a former Florida State University baseball player, noticed a family tailgating at a game. They had roped off the area with temporary fencing, enabling the dogs to roam freely while the family boozed it up.
At Fetch, dogs amble unleashed, and humans get to drink, having ordered from an Airstream retrofitted into a full-service bar. On weekends, food trucks line the nearby side street, and patrons can take the food to picnic tables in a fenced off area. There are trivia nights, and even singles nights, in partnership with the Bumble social and dating app. In the coming months, Fetch will offer its own food, served out of a converted shipping container. There will be edible bites for the two-legged, and a special dog menu created with Fetch’s dog food partner, NomNomNow.
During happy hours, and on weekends, Fetch can become a dog zoo, although “bark rangers” are there to keep things in order. Similar to Lazy Dog, there are rules at Fetch, primarily designed with safety in mind. Tops among them: All dogs must be current on vaccinations, including rabies, DHLPP and Bordetella. Vet records are kept on file at Fetch: no shots, no entry.
“We had to turn down Tuna the dog. Tuna has 2 million followers on Instagram!” said Ochs, referencing the internet celebrity Chihuahua-dachshund crossbreed whose owner hadn’t realized that the dog’s vaccinations had expired when she arrived at Fetch after posting the planned outing on Tuna’s Instagram handle (@tunameltsmyheart).
It’s not just Tuna looking to hang out at Fetch. One member comes almost every weekend from Auburn, Alabama, Ochs said. Even those who aren’t dog owners pop in. And, since the price of admission is per dog ($10 daily rate, as well as membership packages starting at $30 per month), it’s free for humans.
It took Ochs five years to get his business off the ground because, when he approached investors, there was nothing with which they could compare his concept. Yet, Fetch has been so successful that Ochs and his business partner, retired NFL player Garrett Reynolds, have expansion plans. In the next few months, they’ll be opening a location in Alpharetta, near the Ameris Bank Amphitheatre. After that, their eyes are set on Nashville, Charlotte, Birmingham and Raleigh.
Fetch has sparked the entrepreneurial interest of others who grasp the dollar signs behind Ochs’ brainchild. About 50 business-minded folks from around the country have visited the doggie park-bar since it opened, to check out the scene and pick his brain. In the past 18 months, similar venues have sprung up in Florida, Tennessee and Kansas City, Ochs said.
Fetch even is catching the attention of owners of nontraditional pets. People who dote on chickens, donkeys, goats and pigs all have tried to gain access. Alas! They were turned away. A park-bar for pet pigs will have to wait for another day.
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