Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
They say dogs are man’s best friend, but would you fork out 60 quid so that yours could eat like royalty?
That’s the offering from San Francisco pet store, Dogue, which promises a seven course, fine dining tasting menu… exclusively for pups.
Knocked up by Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, Rahmi Massarweh, the ‘Bone Appetite’ menu – yes, it’s really called that – offers everything from dashis to purees and jellies for your canine companion.
His punters may be a bit slobbery, and they certainly don’t have the most refined of palates, but the menu has been running every Sunday for a year, and so far, both owners and dogs have been lapping it up (the latter, more literally).
“Right from the start, there was an instant interest,” Rahmi tells Twisted of his rather quirky culinary venture. “Our first weekend we did a friends and family meal, then it went out on social media and it all went from there.
“People were like, ‘hey, let’s go have a fun experience with our dog and laugh and take pictures’.
“I won’t pretend it wasn’t polarising, of course. But whether it was people saying ‘I love this,’ or ‘this is absurd,’ it’s been very interesting to kind of see the reactions, and you can’t argue with the attention it has got.”
In the past, the doggy menu has featured the likes of a cuttlefish crisp with celeriac cream and morel mushrooms, a goats cheese mousse with red cabbage puree and goat milk and raw beef tartare with cucumber and dandelion.
And the restaurant’s Yelp reviews are a sight to behold, even if they do sound a little farcical.
“I never even knew he loved antelope!,” writes one person excitedly.
Whilst another gushes: “Echo had the spirulina sphere and he literally inhaled it in one go.”
What a time to be alive, ey?
There’s no denying some (read many) would call Dogue pretentious, but pup lover Rahmi’s new restaurant concept was born out of what he says was a genuine gap in the market.
“When my wife and I got our first dog together, we noticed he wasn’t keen on any of the things we’re giving him,” he says. “He wouldn’t eat it… he was like ‘I’m not pleased by this’.
“Then it dawned on me that, you know, it’s not real food. It’s dry oatmeal or dry cereal, plopped into a bowl. I wouldn’t be very happy with that either.
“I thought, ‘I make fresh food for myself and my family, I work in the restaurant industry, I’m a chef, I might as well offer my dog good quality food’.”
After doing extensive research and speaking to vets, the formula he followed was a protein base, “with a strategic portion of calcium and then supplements in the form of fruits and vegetables.”
Naturally, most dry pre-made dog foods are nutritionally balanced and professionally certified, but Rahmi is of the belief that you can never argue that fresh, natural ingredients don’t reign supreme.
“It makes sense that fresh food is better than processed food,” he says. “You can’t deny that real food will always [trump] food in a bag.
“Plus, it meant that you and your dog could actually often end up eating the same meals.
“The only difference would be the amount of salt and sugar and some of the seasonings that we have.”
The dishes were less intricate than you’d see at Dogue today, but as far as dog food goes, they were still something special – and this was when he still worked in the restaurant industry, and often pulled them together after 18 hour shifts.
Eventually, Rahmi decided to leave human-restaurants due to burnout, but that’s when his canine dining experience really found its feet.
He and his wife started up a doggy daycare business which soon turned into a dog food catering company, after his customers saw the jazzy food he was making his own pups.
“Then the restaurant came from there,” he says.
Rahmi saw the real life benefits of serving nutritionally balanced, fresh food to dogs. The positive feedback was rolling in, so, with the help of top taste testers, his own dogs, Grizzly and Luna, Dogue was born.
Out of what he describes as the “one of the lowest points of his life” – leaving his job and finding himself at a loss for what to do – the chef’s creativity and innovation sent him down a path to success.
“I never could have predicted I’d end up doing this,” he laughs.
Of course, Rahmi is all too aware of the eyebrows that have been raised at his restaurant – and, indeed, of the critics that call it frivolous and farcical.
But to that, he retorts: “Be real here. I’m not the first person to head into the kitchen with an apron and cook something for a dog.”
“It’s just that everyone looks at life through a filter, right? So for me, I like to make culinary art, and this dog food just ended up being my artistic expression,” he explains.
“My filter is that I’m classically trained in French cuisine, which ends up being very refined and looking very pleasing.
“There was never a moment where I said ‘why don’t I make this fine dining?’, that’s just what I do.”
Whatever you think of puppy fine dining, there’s no denying Dogue is onto something.
According to research from the Pet Food Network, in the US as many as 80 percent of people see their dogs as family members, whilst in Europe and Asia-Pacific regions, those statistics sit at around 60 percent.
This undoubtedly translates into the food we feed our dogs, too.
Bon Appetit report that the pet food industry was worth $50 billion dollars in 2021, with owners spending more than double what they did a decade prior. Plus, you only have to scroll through social media to see an abundance of ‘Pup-up-cafes’ serving puppachinos, and even ‘human’ brands like Shake Shack and In-N-Out dabbling in doggy delights as well.
All of this is evidence that not only do people now want the best food for their dog, but they want something experiential – and Rahmi delivers both.
“People don’t go to a fine dining restaurant every day,” he says. “But it’s a treat and a splurge – and people want that for their dogs now, too.”
Of course, a thriving business is all well and good, but that’s not what gets Rahmi up in the morning.
“There’s something very unique special about walking into a dining room and seeing everyone has a smile on their face,” he reflects.
“It’s just this energetic, beautiful feeling to see dogs and owners happy together.
“I might be making food for dogs, but the experience is very much for humans, too.”