My life as a New York City fashion sales rep was glamorous, but vacant. I was often fired from my jobs. At my last position, the highlight of my day was lunch! So when I was let go, I wandered down Seventh Avenue certain I needed a serious career change.
About the same time, I had adopted Stella, a terrier mix. She was adorable but destructive. I figured she’d be happier if she had a boyfriend—and I’d have unchewed shoes—so Chewy, an airedale/sharpei mix, joined the family. I soon found out from the vet that he was very sick with distemper. I began researching raw diets so I could nurse Chewy back to health. I shopped at Whole Foods, filling my cart with organic meats and veggies, which I prepared for him. Chewy’s health dramatically improved on this organic dog food diet.
Well-meaning dog owners spend millions on puppy spas and pretty little sweaters, but not so much on their pets’ dietary needs. I felt people would invest in organic raw pet food if they understood how important good nutrition was to their beloved animals’ longevity. Based on my success with chewy, I was determined to bring a healthy pet food product to market. I spent the next six months writing a business plan, did tons of research and drained my savings. Stella & Chewy’s, my organic raw pet food line, was born in 2004. The food is freeze-dried and shelf-stable, so it can be safely stored in your pantry. For the first couple of years, I ran the business from my tiny apartment. There were industrial freezers in my living room instead of sofas, and I hand-delivered orders by taxi. My business was growing, but I was holding it back.
So I moved back to my hometown of Muskego, WI, and built a 15,000-square-foot manufacturing plant. Today, Stella & Chewy’s is sold in some 3,700 stores nationwide and online. We’ve recently moved into a much larger plant, and I oversee 60 employees. My seven year-old son, Charles, thinks my job is cool, and I love that I’m helping pets stay healthy. And both Stella and Chewy think I’m the top dog.
—As told to Jennifer Parris