A doggone tasty em­po­rium

In­spired by their ‘picky’ pooch, own­ers of Tom & Sawyer make fresh pet meals, snacks

Toronto Star - - BUSINESS - DIANE PETERS SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR

His name is Sawyer, he’s a YorkiePoo, small and he is so to­tally in charge. This wire-haired mini-pooch is the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the fresh pet-meal em­po­rium Tom & Sawyer on Queen St. E., near Les­lie St.

He serves as the cover model on the com­pany web­site. When you speak to his own­ers, Kristin Matthews and Peter Zakarow, who founded this busi­ness, you must pay him some at­ten­tion — via pet­ting or toss­ing a rub­ber ball — or he com­plains loudly.

“He’s the ul­ti­mate picky dog,” Matthews says. Now, with non-stop ac­cess to chef-made food, this pet still has his way. He likes to eat some­thing dif­fer­ent all the time and is a “roomtem­per­a­ture dog,” so his meals must be luke­warm.

Be­fore Sawyer came along, Matthews was a foren­sic ac­coun­tant. But af­ter 15 years in­ves­ti­gat­ing sus­pi­cious busi­ness in the books of other com­pa­nies, she re­al­ized she wanted to do some­thing else.

She quit her job in 2013 and started to pon­der her next move. At the same time, she and Zakarow — al­ready a se­rial en­tre­pre­neur — adopted Sawyer. From the start, the pup pas­sion­ately re­fused kib­ble.

“Din­ner­time was stress­ful for ev­ery­one,” Matthews said. She be­gan read­ing the back of dog food la­bels and re­al­ized what a, well, dog’s break­fast com­mer­cial food was. “I would not want to eat this stuff.”

The cou­ple started cook­ing from scratch for the pooch while Matthews con­sulted cook­books, read books and called around. Know­ing other dog own­ers were in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, a busi­ness idea took shape.

The pair brought in a team of ex­perts in­clud­ing a chef, vet, food sci­en­tist and an­i­mal nutri­tion con­sul­tant to de­velop prod­ucts. (A crew of test­ing pets ate the food for a year be­fore the store’s open­ing.) They looked around for a space large enough to act as a re­tail store and a full in­dus­trial kitchen, and found it in a for­mer ra­di­a­tor shop.

The kitchen, with the ca­pac­ity to put to­gether 272 kilo­grams of food a day, makes batches of five dog meals (in­clud­ing Tummy Tamer, to feed Spot when he’s got stom­ach is­sues), three cat meals and an ar­ray of snacks.

Cus­tomers buy a kilo bag of Ital­ian Beef Pasta for $11 (it’ll feed a Sawyer­sized dog for two days) or go for a sub­scrip­tion ser­vice and get a deal, just $8, with meals de­liv­ered bi­weekly or monthly.

In the shop, there’s room for hang­ing out, espresso and cold drinks on hand, for shop­pers to en­joy while their pup lounges on a cush­ion. A se­lec­tion of pet prod­ucts such as leashes, beds and toys line the walls.

This beau­ti­fully pre­sented and well-planned of­fer­ing seems too pol­ished for a mere sin­gle store. In the next three to five years, these pet lovers hope to open 20 lo­ca­tions.

Along with ex­pan­sion plans, they have ideas for more re­tail prod­ucts, menu items and just about ev­ery­thing pet, health and life­style re­lated. Says Zakarow of his wife and busi­ness part­ner, who he claims is be­hind all the best ideas, “she was far too creative to be an ac­coun­tant.”

KEITH BEATY/TORONTO STAR

Peter Zakarow and Kristin Matthews, co-founders of pet-food em­po­rium Tom & Sawyer, with their dog Sawyer.

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