Hopping on board a local, sustainable pet treat business
Like so many customers, we were led to Piggyback Treats by the nose – our dog’s nose. Ducky’s had training in canine nosework, an offshoot of bombsniffing, but it didn’t require much nosepower to detect a bag of salmon skins on the Piggyback table at a Laurel Hill cemetery flea market last summer.
Or the liver and anise bones or heart jerky (yep, dried beef heart). Jennifer Kirby and her boyfriend Chris Courter took us through their offerings, followed closely by a pack of dogs of all sizes. Ducky’s favorite? Bier bones. (By a nose.)
No, they don’t have any beer in them but they do have a cool local connection – Piggyback has teamed up with East Falls own Wissahickon Brewing Company (WBC) to make this local, sustainable dog treat. Apparently spent brewing grains are all the rage in the dog treat world, providing great nutritive benefits for pups, and are therefore kinda hard to get. Luckily, Wissahickon has grains in spades! (FYI – Piggyback’s Bier Bones are available at WBC for purchase at the bar!)
Jen credits East Falls Local for giving Piggyback a boost by introducing her to WBC’s Tim Gill, but it seems inevitable these two great startups would eventually have met – they both focus on local, sustainable sourcing and use of materials (for example WBC donates part of its grains to the W.B. Saul School of Agricultural Sciences on Henry Ave. for farm animal feed.) It made sense that these two should find each other.
The origin of Piggyback though wasn’t so neat and predictable. In fact, the thought of specializing in dog treats never occurred to Jen until she happened to make goodie bags for guest pups at her dog Candy’s first birthday party in 2011!
Until then, she assumed she’d have a different career. She’d studied baking and pastry arts in college (Pennsylvania Culinary Institute) and spent 6 years after that as a pastry chef in hotels, bakeries, restaurants, and resorts. Tired of working for others, she took a leap and opened her own business, Kitchens Lane LLC, in 2012. The company, focused mainly on private chef services, small-scale catering, and specialty cakes, got a big boost when she started offering seasonal dog treat gift boxes for sale alongside more popular human gift baskets.
The idea for Piggyback really took off in 2012 when she was visiting Pulaski, her home town in upstate New York during salmon season. “Fly fishing is a big deal up there,” she said, “and I happened to stop by one of the fish-cleaning stations to pick up some salmon filets to take back to Philly.” Inspiration struck when they told her selling sport fish was illegal and she noticed they were throwing away the fish skins in giant barrels.
“I realized quickly that our signature treat would be the moral standing for the whole company. We would Piggyback off of other business’ byproduct with an effort to reduce food waste going into landfills and compost piles. It all made so much sense!”
From then on, she stopped by the cleaning stations during the fishing season with five-gallon buckets for the fish cleaners. The guys loved what she was doing – filling the buckets and keeping them on ice til they could be picked up and taken back to her mom’s house in Pulaski to be cleaned and dehydrated.
It was an easy step from there to look for other local businesses, such as family farms, as the sourcing for ingredients that were nutritious but were not needed.
They branched out into jerky in short order with Jen relying on her baker’s training to create new, interesting flavor profiles. For instance, she’s combined anise with liver in the aptly named Liver and Anise Bones — one of Piggyback’s most popular treats.
“It smells like a gourmet meal when I cook those.” She’s also extremely particular about other ingredients, like flour. “I use nutritionally better flours, like whole wheat or brown rice flour.” She also doesn’t use any preservatives, flavorings, or colorants.
How does she know what works? Her lab Candy and her sister’s rat terrier/chihuahua mix, Darwin, are often initial testers. They’re also the inspiration behind the Piggyback logo — Darwin seated on Candy’s back! “They actually do this!” said Jen. “They’ve been doing the Piggyback trick for a while!”
Catch Candy and Darwin at a Piggyback event near you (check out the Piggyback events page or the Piggyback Facebook for the full list of upcoming events). Or just stop by for some treats! (In addition to WBC, treats are available at Bone Appetite in Chestnut Hill, the PA General Store in Reading Terminal Market, and the East Falls Farmer’s Market.)
Attention Cat Lovers
Piggyback has treats for kitties too! (The salmon skins alone should be a big hit with any feline.) “About 50% of our customers are cat owners,” said Jen. “It’s a shame that cats tend to get left out when it comes to pet treats.” Come on cat people — get your treats right meow!
About Jen and Chris
Jen is a professional chef with over 16 years’ experience and Chris is a six-year Navy veteran who’s been studying dog-spoiling for 7 years and counting. They live in Chestnut Hill.
For more info about Piggyback Treats, or to place an order, visit Piggybacktreats.com.