Is Michael's going to the dogs?
McCourtney: We like to think so. It started in '06. In mid-January, when there's two feet of snow on the ground, we brainstorm our summer strategy. A friend of ours was hounding us to do a dog custard, so we decided to go for it. Customers were bringing their dogs in and buying them regular custard, which isn't particularly good for them because of the sugar and fat content. And K9's a point of difference for us. There's always competition moving in, and big national chains don't offer dog treats. It really endears us to our customers, and it's been huge. We thought we'd sell 300 units a month, but it's 10 times that and still on the uptick.
We walk the line with the city health code. Dogs aren't allowed inside, but we have outdoor seating at all our locations, so we can obey the law and still attract both two-legged and four-legged friends.
How'd you come up with the recipe?
It was created for Noah, our pug. He was the official K9 Custard dog - there's a poster of him surrounded by K9 cups in our stores. When he died last year, he passed the reins to Jack the French bulldog. Michael [Dix, co-Custard King] and I got intrigued with the breed when we saw Martha Stewart's two Frenchies on her show. We also have a yellow lab, Biscuit. She loves K9 Custard, but she likes to stay out of the limelight. She's content to be home on the farm, swimming and chasing rabbits.
Our dogs used to get people custard, but not anymore. We worked with a local vet on the recipe. It's low-carb and sugar-free. People can eat it. It doesn't have as much flavor as human custard, but dogs adore it.
K9 Custard is trademarked. I think we're the only ones in the country who make anything like it. They have Frosty Paws in the grocery stores, but it's full of chemicals. K9 Custard is all natural. We try to eat healthy ourselves, and we wouldn't feed our dogs anything we wouldn't eat.
You know people resemble their dogs. Do people order the same flavors as their pets?
K9 only comes in vanilla. It's hard to branch out, flavor-wise, and keep the low-carb, no sugar requirement. But I have noticed that people will order plain custard to match their dog's, rather than a more decadent sundae. That's downselling, but at the end of the day K9 does so well it doesn't matter.
It sets new trends, too. We've always had birthdays for people, but last week a customer threw a doggie birthday party at the Atwood store. It was our first K9 event, so I came in to attend the customers. Each guest got one custard to eat there and a little party favor bag of three custards to go. There were like 12 dogs out under the umbrellas. It was fun - we hope to do many more.