Cafe Bark Gets Four Paws Up from Pooches and “Hoomans”
Inwood’s new pet-friendly cafe sells coffee, muffins, leather dog jackets and cannabidiol.
By Kristy Cappiello
Gompers the Chihuahua-terrier sat quietly in a cafe, his leash attached to the small table where his “hoomans” sipped their lattes. Around him in the grey room, other dogs strained to play while their owners ate pastries, worked on laptops or chatted with one another.
“He loves the dog park, but this is comfier for us,” said Meggie Kwaite, Gompers’ hooman, as she cuddled into her husband Derek on a gray sofa.
Cafe Bark, on West 181st Street, is uptown’s first dog-friendly restaurant and one of the few in the city. Since its opening on Sept. 29, dog owners and lovers alike fill the cafe to drink coffee and play with their furry friends.
Water bowls, leash hooks and cleanup bags encourage owners to relax while the dogs socialize in the cafe’s pet friendly section.
“People always ask if they can bring their pets into establishments and the answer is always no,” said Fernando Alvarez, the cafe’s general manager. Alvarez has managed restaurants before, and as a former Inwood resident said that Cafe Bark is just what the neighborhood needs.
Owners Patricia Lee, Stephanie Garcia and Chris Chung were inspired to open the cafe because of their own guilt about leaving their pets home alone while they worked and again when they went out with friends.
The trio also owns a real estate company. While they would not specify the cost of opening Cafe Bark, except to say that it was “quite a lot,” they expect it to turn a profit by January, earlier than they had anticipated.
“People just want to hang out with their pets,” said Lee. “It’s hard to balance work with a social life when you can’t bring pets along.”
Leyla Connelly works from home twice a month and bought her French bulldog Leo to Cafe Bark one recent day.
“I can already tell I’ll be spending way too much time here,” she said with a laugh, sitting at a small table with Albert Gjonbalaj and his mixed terrier, Rocky.
Across the room, Eric Gersen, 31, worked on his laptop alongside Maple, another terrier mix. “I really like working in cafes but it’s stressful leaving her home,” he said. “I have to gauge how long I can spend out.”
Under health department regulations, dogs may not come inside a restaurant or establishment where food is being prepared. So Cafe Bark is split into two sections: a cafe, where food and beverages are served; and the dog-friendly zone, where customers can shop in the doggy boutique or bring their food and drinks to small tables with their dogs.
The cafe and the dog-friendly area, while connected by a small glass corridor, have two separate addresses.
“They are two separate entities with two separate payrolls,” said Chung. “Employees on the food side cannot come into contact with dogs and vice versa.”
All treats and food in the cafe are pre-packaged and delivered from outside catering companies, following state agriculture department regulations.
Customers can choose muffins and cupcakes, priced at $2.50, or salads and sandwiches that range from $9 to $12. At the coffee bar, hot or iced coffee drinks range from $2.75 to $5.50. The cafe awaits a state liquor license, after getting approval in January from Community Board 12.
Over on the dog-friendly side, a boutique carries everything from collars to clothes to matching accessories for dogs and owners, designed by Garcia, the co-owner. Collars range from $28 to $60, depending on how “blinged out” they are, said Lee. Dog sweaters and leather jackets run from $25 to $65.
At a small counter, a small chalkboard reads “CBD for Hoomans and Pets.” CBD or cannabidiol is a cannabis product.
Although there is no scientific evidence that CBD improves existing medical conditions, advocates say that the compound helps with arthritis pain and anxiety in both humans and animals.
“We focus on pet wellness,” said Lee. “We want to take a natural, holistic approach, not just medicate.”
She said the owners test the products on themselves and their own pets before selling them. They sell CBD in the form of biscuits, bath bombs, lotions, sprays and soaps. A small jar of biscuits sells for $11 and paw protection sticks with CBD cost $5.95.
Poo bags are plentiful and free, so owners can take their pooches outside. Sometimes, the doggies don’t make it. But customers never have to worry about cleanup because the staff swoops in quickly, using non-toxic products with minimal chemicals because the dogs always come first.
(Photos by Kristy Cappiello)