Has Fido Got Beer Bones?
It was a moment that could have passed without much notice. A dog, as dogs will do, was getting into something that smelled tasty. It could have ended with a "Bad Dog! No!" Dog leaves, tail between legs.
Instead the scene ended happily, and no one would have known at the time, but profitably.
You see, Ryan Wilcox, a home beer brewer, embraced the moment his dog Cohiba began lapping at the leftover grains of that day's beer-making.In fact, it became the much-mentioned light bulb moment that entrepreneurs often speak of.
"She started munching on it. She really liked it. We started thinking we could do something with this," says Monique Fekin, Wilcox's wife as of a few weeks ago. Fekin and Wilcox began dating a two weeks after he adopted Cohiba from a Rottweiler rescue in Chicago, where they all lived at the time.
"He got the dog. He got the girl. We all lived happily ever after," Fekin says, laughing.
It's the truth. Their three-way partnership led to the founding of Cohiba's Beer Bones
, a three-year-old company that's making natural, no-preservative dog treats, re-using brewing leftovers that would otherwise become garbage. Cohiba's Beer Bones motto is "The Best Dog Treats For the Planet." And in an attempt to live up to that motto, the bones are packaged in recycled, post-consumer bags and boxes printed with soy ink that comes in bars of wax instead of plastic cartridges.
As for the all-too common question -can dogs get drunk on beer bones?- the answer is no. They don't have the alcoholic sugar that's extracted from the brewing process. Another regular inquiry about whether humans can eat them is, yes. People mix them in with granola, spread them with raspberry jam or Dijon mustard or eat them straight. Really.
Since its official founding in June 2009, the bones have ended up in 400-plus stores - pet shops, food markets and liquor stores - in almost 30 states. The company is based in the couple's hometown of Birmingham, and it has a bakery in Grosse Pointe Park. Fekin is the full-time salesperson and marketer, and Ryan, who works in IT, handles the website and graphic design. Three part-time employees, family members and a friend, help them run the business that at first was word-of-mouth through a friendly neighbor dog rescuer, then Oakland Animal Hospital and on to online orders until eventually the first order from someone other than a friend or family member came through.
"We couldn't believe it. Our confidence just grew from there," Fekin says.
That grew into full-blown stores placing large orders.
The couple met in Chicago, where they had lived for several years. She was from Michigan and he grew up in Upstate New York. His brother had moved here and was starting a family. Her family was still here. They decided to move back in 2008 and pounce on Cohiba's idea. It was not a sunny time in Michigan's economy.
"Moving back to Michigan gave us the opportunity to do something with the business…It was 2008 right when economy bottomed out," Fekin recalls.
They took it as inspiration. "Through recessions I feel like some of the best businesses were born…IBM, other big businesses you might never think of started in recessions," she explains.
"For us, we always knew we wanted to start a business together. We just didn't know what it was ... We both have entrepreneurial spirits," Fekin says. "We weren't sure how we were going to do it.
"Cohiba basically put it in our laps and we ran with it."
Kim North Shine is Metromode's over-achieving Development News editor and a Grosse Pointe-based freelance writer.
All Photos by David Lewinski