By Bob Freund, Wagazine, Spring 2014 Issue
When Pam Miller wheels her white van into Rochester’s dog parks this spring, dog owners and their canines will perk up.
It arrives like a rolling mural. Large dog images jump and run across the sides of the vehicle; a fire hydrant wraps around the tail light. Plastered in large letters is “BACB Unleashed.”
The flamboyant vehicle is the equivalent of the neighborhood ice cream truck – only for dogs.
When the side door slides open, Miller and her Bone Appetit Canine Bakery (BACB) bring out bags of homemade dog treats, ready for munching.
The very visible van is her way to market the all-natural pet snacks produced by Bone Appetit over the past 15 years.
Miller, who lives just north of Rochester, owns the small business. She also is Bone Appetit’s chef, baker, order bagger and shipper – well, sometimes with help from a few friends, she said recently.
“Homemade” is not just a catch phrase
Her recipes are original, created with advice from a veterinarian. On production days, Miller becomes a one-woman factory. She blends the ingredients in her own Kitchen Aid mixer and bakes the morsels, tray by tray, in the oven at her home. “It can take a full 8-hour day to bake one flavor,” she said.
“After many years of selling, the array of flavors has been pared down to the best sellers, along with holiday flavors during Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Miller said.
Bone Appetit’s core flavors are cheddar cheese, peanut butter and oatmeal.
Miller ships online orders to distant customers, but she has no ambitions for mass production. “I’m not looking to go commercial and (distribute) throughout the United States,” she said.
In fact, since opening Bone Appetit in mid-1999, the entrepreneur has made just one major concession to more efficient processing; she changed the shape of the treats from a miniature bone to a square.
Gourmet and healthy
The dogs savor the flavors, but dog owners often buy Bone Appetit as a healthy, all-natural snack. The treat is “something that you can feel confident giving your dog and not worry that there’s a risk of health effects,” Miller said. At the same time, they are made to be treats, not a well-rounded diet for dogs, she said.
Jennifer Olk of Mason City, Iowa, discovered Bone Appetit treats at a local crafts show and thought they would help her dog Pinto, who had diabetes. “Pretty much any treat that you buy in the store has sugar in it,” she said. “Those were awful for him.”
Bone Appetit’s were healthier and “Pinto loved her treats,” Olk said. She’s still buying them for her current dogs, two energetic Jack Russell terriers.
Julie Call’s dogs were snapping up Miller’s treats before they became Bone Appetit’s. “They were all made with human-grade ingredients. I think that was a huge thing for me as a dog (owner),” she said. “I knew what was in them.”
A pet’s inspiration
A beloved pet inspired Miller, to launch her baking enterprise. She opened it “as kind of my therapy” after the loss of Boo, her canine companion for eight years, she said.
Bone Appetit operated a retail store, Bone Appetit Canine Bakery & Gift Shoppe, in Austin, Minn., for several years starting in 2002. Miller then moved her business to the larger Rochester market.
Customers can find the treats at www.bacbunleashed.com and at a few pet-related businesses. They also can watch for a Bone Appetit’s mobile store, decorated with dog art. “It’s been fun,” Miller said. (Now) “I get to go where the dogs go!”
Bob Freund is a Rochester-based writer.