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One look into the glass display case and your mouth may start to water. There are multi-colored birthday cakes with sprinkles. Moist, orange-colored pumpkin bars. Powder-dusted, flaky, creme-filled pastries. If you didn’t know any better, these desserts would be in your belly with no questions asked. But then you do a double take, and you realize who the real customers are at this bakery.

This is like a real bakery,” explained Beth Staley, owner of Happy Dog Barkery in Downers Grove, Illinois. But we appeal to the dog, not the human. We are known for our birthday cakes throughout Illinois and send them all over the country for dogs. We make our fresh homemade stews and soft treats. Our liver cake is our number one treat of everything that we make in the store, made with fresh beef liver.”

Happy Dog Barkery opened its doors in this southwest suburb of Chicago in April 2004. As Staley celebrates a milestone of 20 years in business, she talks about the sustained run of her independent pet specialty retail store, which features an in-house bakery.

Our goal is to make a happier and healthier dog, hence Happy Dog Barkery. We have brought a lot of joy to people’s lives, making their dogs happier,” Staley stated.

Staley says she was relatively settled in the corporate world before she launched Happy Dog Barkery. She notes that her former employer treated her well, but she felt something was missing.

It was not fulfilling to me as a person, and I knew I needed to do something else with my life,” Staley explained. I never wanted a 9-to-5 job, and now here I am! I work more hours than I ever have in my life, but it is more fulfilling because it is something that is mine and that I want to do.”

Beth’s long walks with her own dogs helped inspire her unique idea to launch this business.

I had a dog I adopted, and he had allergies, and I always baked as a child with my mother, and I needed to make special treats for him.

There was nothing like this where we were, and I decided, ‘Hey, let’s make this a business,’ and three months later, it all snowballed into Happy Dog Barkery,” Staley explained.

Happy Dog Barkery is clearly more than your typical pet store. Customers know when they walk through the doors, they are entering a magical place filled with joy.

We hand-make everything here,” Staley said. There is very little machine process to it. We have our kitchen with open windows, so people can go in. They can look through the windows and see the ingredients that we are using.”

The ingredients are a lot of the things you might find in your own kitchen. It is just a matter of how we mix them up. So, there is no added salt or sugars to any of the treats.  We started with following some cookbooks. Now we just have an idea for a recipe and go from there.”

Dogs of all shapes and sizes get the run of the real estate as soon as the doors open at Happy Dog Barkery. The aisles are lined with anything and everything a dog could want, whether that be treats, bones, chews, collars, leashes, toys or frisbees. The store also carries a full line of dog food – dry, canned, frozen, raw, and freeze-dried. For pet-owners with a fondness for paws of a different stripe, the store does have a small section dedicated to cats.

I attribute the great success here to the great staff I have had throughout the years and the care we have for the dogs,” Staley said. It is all about happiness.”

I know I am making my customers happy when their dog comes through the door, and when my customer tells me their dog knows how to get to Happy Dog Barkery from the parking lot or their home. The dog goes right up to what we call our magic gate, gets their liver cake, and they go out with their tails wagging.”

I love coming to work every day, because even though it is the same store on a different date, there are always going to be different things happening in the store. I also get to see dogs all day long. I get to make them happy.  I also get to try and accomplish new things that are going to make the store even more successful,” Staley stated.

Dogs have always been a big part of Staley’s life. She says she and her husband have fostered hundreds of dogs which have gone on to find new owners. These days, Staley owns three dogs: a lab by the name of Dash, a German Shorthair Pointer named Rosie, and a senior Beagle, Hazel.

“What I love about dogs is they love you unconditionally. You could have a bad day and you get home, and your dog and all your stress can melt away because the dogs are just great and they’re always happy to see you,” Staley said with a smile.

Each year, Americans spend $136.8 billion on pet products according to the American Pet Products Association. In 2020, the pet industry crossed the $100 billion sales mark for the first time.

I think the pet industry has continued to grow because more people are becoming aware that the better care you take of your dog, the longer a dog’s life is going to be,” Staley noted about her industry. There is a lot more innovation coming out about healthy diets and about how to enrich the lives of dogs.”

In between handing over treats and bringing joy to her customers, both the four-legged and two-legged variety, Staley paused to reflect on her twenty years as a retailer. 

Big chains have tried to do what we do. But they cannot micro focus what we are doing, and they cannot turn on a dime,” Staley said. During COVID, we were able to make adjustments the same day when it came to making a change. They have to go through all their corporate rigamarole to get changes made. We can adapt very quickly.”

It does make me feel really good because I know that that dog is going to have a great day, and the person is happier too because they come in,” Staley said.This is not a store that, is a chore to visit. This is a happy place. It is all about the dog and when people come in they see their dog happy, they buy him a treat or a toy.  We get to feed them. We get to spoil them, and we make everybody laugh, bark, smile, and wag.”

One Comment

  • Malou Roth says:

    The HAPPY DOG BARKERY is in Downers Grove where I live. I have never shopped there because I have always had rescue kitties. The article was terrific and I will stop in this week to congratulate Beth Staley for her success and thank her for all her hard work. She is a real gem in our Village.

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