Just a few of Nancy Massaro's extensive collection of homemade dog treats.
Owner Nancy Massaro with one of her Shiloh Shepherds, Zaya.
photo by Ben Cooper
Representing the next step in the growing pet-food industry in the Charlottesville area, Zeus’s Gourmet Barkery, opened its doors on Thursday, June 19 to fellow Charlottesville dog-lovers, however, you won’t find any oversized culinary instruments or more than just a few employees at this pet store.
The shop’s owner and creator, Nancy Massaro, describes the Barkery’s extensive list of dog snacks and treats as being strictly “homemade and hand-cut,” from all natural ingredients. Massaro personally prepares every product–– ranging from foot-long, bone-shaped cookies to doggie frozen yogurt–– by hand at her local home, just a short drive from their 209 2nd Street SE business location.
“That’s why I don’t go to bed until 2:30 in the morning,” Massaro laughs.
Massaro and her husband/business partner, Angelo, have been K-9 enthusiasts their entire lives. The two have been breeders of show dogs, specifically the Shiloh Shepherd, for years and happily spend most of their time with the family of six dogs they frequently walk around town. The couple’s first Shiloh Shepherd, Zeus, was their initial inspiration for creating the business.
Other than Massaro’s “loves” of her life, another major inspiration was the 2007 pet food recalls which claimed the lives of thousands of household pets throughout the world. The poisonous dog food was produced by a single Chinese manufacturer and then distributed by multiple popular pet food companies within the U.S. and abroad. Much of the recalled food had traces of melamine, a toxic chemical used in the production of plastics, cleaning products, and laminates.
“I used to use the crummy products, which I thought were great products and then all of the sudden you hear about thousands of dogs dying,” Nancy says. “So I said ‘ya know what? I don’t trust this anymore; I’m going to start making my own treats.’”
After moving to Charlottesville three years ago, Massaro and her husband started setting up a dog treat stand at the weekly Charlottesville City Market on the Downtown Mall, where they would sell their homemade dog treats. There, Nancy says, they built up a wide and loyal customer base, which made her much more comfortable making the transition to their brick and mortar operation.
Nancy says the Charlottesville area is home to a very dog-friendly culture and is filled with enthusiasts who want only the best for their dogs. Another prominent and more established high-quality dog treat manufacturer, Sammy Snacks, located in the Barracks Road Shopping Center, was created in 1999 and now distributes its products all across the East Coast. Other types of pet services are also headquartered in Charlottesville, including Doody Calls, which picks up its clients’ pet feces on a daily, weekly, or bi-weekly basis. The company operates out of a spacious and surprisingly large office on the Downtown Mall and offers its services nationwide.
Sammy Snacks CEO Matt Frey has lived in Charlottesville his entire life and describes the national pet industry as diversifying and evolving, especially in Charlottesville.
“Charlottesville is a very educated market and has been able to understand how high-quality foods for pets can make a big difference in their long-term health,” says Frey. “Some markets [in other cities] were a little bit slow to adapt to that.”
The pet food industry is a growing field, as more and more pet owners are willing to pay higher prices to increase their pets’ happiness, Frey says. However, for both the owners of Zeus’s Gourmet Barkery and Sammy Snacks, the joy of informing consumers about the benefits of high-quality foods and improving pets’ lives seems to be a much greater source of motivation than any monetary gains. Frey says he welcomes new pet food suppliers into the industry and feels little competition from them.
“I think there is plenty of room for all of us,” says Frey. “We’re all here, hopefully, working together with the long-term goal of helping pet owners have healthier and happier pets.”
Nancy also keeps the animals' well-being her top priority.
“When I see the dog eating the cookie, it just puts a big smile on my face,” she says.