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Going To The Dogs.

And you thought only kids get first birthday luaus.

At Hawaii Doggie Bakery & Gift Shop, dogs can have their cake and eat it too. For $55, you can give your pet a first birthday luau complete with goodie bags, party favors, and a custom-made birthday cake. Don't worry about those extra calories. The frosting is sugar free. You can also get gift baskets for your pooch. The biscuits are baked with locally grown products such as sweet potato, taro and apple banana. The treats are also made with products such as wholewheat flour and corn meal and have no added preservatives.

It may sound strange, but Hawaii Doggie Bakery & Gift Shop in McCully is positioning itself in the growing nationwide niche market of pet luxury products now hitting the mainstream. Owner Jen Kunishima, 26, invested $25,000 in personal savings and a bank loan to open the bakery and specialty retail store in November. Dog lovers can also buy canine accessories made by more than a dozen local artists. There are doggie albums, T-shirts, and handcrafted leather dog collars with carved Hawaiian petroglyph designs. First year sales of doggie products, along with sales from the doggie parties, are projected at $200,000.

"It's not a Pet's Discount Warehouse," says Kunishima. "This is a Starbucks for dogs."

People spend $9 billion worldwide on pet food every year--more than the $6 billion spent on baby food, according to Forbes magazine. At least 38 percent of U.S. households have dogs. A 1997/1998 survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association found that seven out of 10 dog owners give gifts to their dogs. Although just a small niche, the luxury pet market is still worth tens of millions of dollars, according to Forbes.

Kunishima got the idea for Hawaii Doggie Bakery in 1998, when she began feeding her pregnant golden retriever home-cooked meals as suggested by her veterinarian, who said store-bought food filled with preservatives would be unhealthy for the unborn puppies. "Basically, I started my dog on a Hawaiian diet with taro and sweet potato and poi," says Kunishima. "She had a fabulous coat and all nine in the litter survived, which is unusual for a litter that big."

PARTY POOCHERS: Jen Kunishima (left) and Trudy Mahelona, owners of Hawaii Doggie Bakery & Gift Shop, with Ipo.

Kunishima, who graduated with a business law degree from the University of Hawaii last May, decided to market her homemade doggie treats. She recruited her sister, 30-year-old Trudy Mahelona, who bakes in her spare time, to experiment with different recipes. Over the next few months, the sisters spent virtually every evening and weekend testing their products.

"We knew the pet industry was booming," says Mahelona. "All of our friends our age don't have kids yet. But they all have dogs."

The sisters began selling their products in March at Native Books & Beautiful Things. Kunishima is a partner at the downtown Honolulu and Ward Warehouse stores, where she also sells jewelry under the name Manoa Designs. The biscuits--such as Pineapple Pooch Treats, Kalua Chicken & Poi Munchies, and Barkin' Banana Bites--were a hit with both the locals and visitors. Tourists began requesting mail orders of the products to send home. Sales of the doggie biscuits at the two stores average $3,000 a month.

"We sell out every two days," says Kunishima. "This is an alternative to preservative-ridden treats. All of our recipes use locally grown food. We develop relationships with small farmers for apple bananas or Haleiwa poi."

Businesses catering to pampered pets are popping up across the U.S. mainland. Three Dog Bakery, a 9-year-old national pet bakery chain based in Kansas City, Mo., features freshly baked biscotti and canine fortune cookies. Haute Dogs and Fat Cats, a pet boutique in Dallas, Texas, serves up fresh garlic chicken tacos for dogs.

And it doesn't stop at culinary delights. Pet owners can have their dogs live in a lap of luxury at the Avondale Pet Resort in Des Moines, Iowa. For $26.50 a night, the family pooch is treated to Mozart and videos piped into each room. And a holistic veterinarian in California treats animals with aromatherapy and color therapy to cure them of their ailments.

Kunishima and Mahelona won't stop at catering to dogs. If all goes as planned, they expect to open Hawaii Kitty Bakery & Gift Shop in Honolulu by the end of this year.

Adds Mahelona: "This is not a luxury. It represents time spent with the animal."
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Author:DeSilva, Craig
Publication:Hawaii Business
Geographic Code:1U9HI
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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