Saturday, June 15, 2024

A CT mom and daughter team know we love dogs. Their merging businesses aim to ‘feed’ that passion.

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You could say the town is going to the dogs.

And that is a good thing for Newington mother-daughter duo Jennifer Walker and Kayla Walker, who are merging their dog businesses under one roof in their hometown.

Jennifer Walker, 52, owns Muddy Paws Barkery at 100 Fisk Drive in Newington and Kayla Walker owns Hound and Home on Berlin Turnpike. Both will merge in a downtown location at 1042 Main St.

Hound and Home is an independent pet store and Muddy Paws Barkery makes homemade treats for dogs as well as offering self-washing and grooming stations. The latter has been opened for just over a year.

“Hound and Home has been in business since 2020 and started during the pandemic,” Jennifer Walker said. “We started selling dog treats at craft fairs and farmers markets and I started selling them wholesale.”

“Kayla had a mobile store and outgrew her space and wanted a space to be able to bake the treats in,” she said.

Kayla Walker, 24, will take over a lot of the day-to-day operations when the downtown location is unveiled officially in early July.

“This has been a journey for the both of us,” Jennifer Walker said.

Mother-daughter duo Jennifer and Kayla Walker are merging their dog businesses under one roof in their hometown of Newington.

The elder Walker, a lifelong Newington resident, runs the business in addition to her full-time job in public relations for UConn Health.

“She has her skill set and I have mine and we complement each other, which is good,” Jennifer Walker said, of her daughter. “If you had told me five years ago, I would have three dogs and a dog treat business I would have told you, you were crazy.”

“It’s fun watching Kayla reach her goals,” she said. “Because I work full time, she will take over the day-to-day at the store and I will do the sales and marketing. It helps us that we are moving this together. She has always been the baker in the family and it’s nice to see her take it over.”

Jennifer Walker said the custom products will attract customers. The products are made with human-grade ingredients, according to the company.

“I wholesale my treats and my treats are natural and the most ingredients you will see in them is four,” Walker said. “I also do birthday cake and doggy ice cream. We sell a lot of things customers aren’t going to find in other places. We also have stuff they will find at other stores. We are more of a dog boutique. We are a part of the community and the community we live in.”

Kayla Walker said she’s excited to have both businesses under one roof.

“I’m very excited to merge with my mom,” the younger Waker said. “Her treats are already in my store but no one knows that they are her homemade dog treats until I tell them. Having my mom’s bakery in the store is going to be great. She makes great treats and I want her to get the credit she deserves.”

Giving Back

The Walkers have also had students from East Hartford and Newington high schools help the business doing various tasks.

“Working full time this was becoming a lot for me,” Jennifer Walker said. “I was at the point where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this anymore. But someone on Facebook posted that she was looking for a place for students to work.”

Multiple students from East Hartford High School Life Skills Program help with labeling, stuffing bags and folding towels.

There’s another class at the school that helps to bake the treats.

David Hippler, special education secondary transition coordinator at East Hartford Public Schools, and a special education teacher in East Hartford for 24 years, said “special education students can come to school until they are 22 depending on the student’s need. In addition to the (high school) grade students, some students require more services and stay with us through a transition program,”

“That’s where Hounds and Home comes in,” he said. noting East Hartford has two special education programs, one for ninth to twelfth grades and the other for ages 18 to 22.

“The older group is out in the community and looking to grow more employment skills and volunteer skills,” Hippler said. “We are building real world experience and on the job training. Socialization helps self-esteem. The relationship with Hounds and Homes has been great. They came to our school and share their skills with our students.”

“The owners came to the school and showed them how they make their treats,” he said. “We have a kitchen and the owners started bringing ingredients and supplies to here at school and our students baked biscuits in the past to raise money for class trips and other things.”

Hippler likened it to a Home Economics class and said it’s a partnership that gives students real employment opportunities. “It’s hard to get students with intellectual disabilities some real-life experiences that could lead to independent work for minimum wage or better. It’s a great benefit for our kids and a great partnership,” he said.

Jennifer Walker said at new store students will help with baking and stocking and other tasks depending on their abilities. “This has given us a whole new purpose for our business. These students are hard working.”

More room

The extra space will allow Muddy Paws Barkery to expand as well. The store opened last April on Berlin Turnpike. Kayla Walker makes collars, T-shirts, bandanas and cups. Her 84-year-old grandmother also lends a hand.

“Our store is different because we have a ton of homemade stuff,” Kayla Walker said. “We have my collars and my mom’s treats. It’s more a family feel. More of a boutique feel. I build our relationships with my customers. They are going to want to come back because of those relationships.”

Kayla Walker said the business offers grooming and self-service washing area in addition to a gift shop and store that stocks natural and healthful pet food and treats.

“We weren’t going to do grooming, but the demand was so high,” Jennifer Walker said. “Our new location will near the Newington dog park and the self-serve grooming stations will be helpful on muddy days.”

Grooming has been the most in demand service at Muddy Paws Barkery in the year she has been in business. Dogs are groomed one at a time.

“Dogs are Kayla’s passion,” Jennifer Walker said. “She is constantly fostering. She also sells on TikTok. She went viral with her Easter baskets. She has the pulse of what is going on. She sells a lot on TikTok.”

She goes live on TikTok, and her streams can be found on the social media platform by searching for Hound and Home.

Jennifer Walker said the younger audience has been a big one for the businesses.

“People love their dogs and I think there is an age group of millennials who haven’t had children yet and their dogs are their children,” Walker said. “And there are parents now whose dogs are their grandchildren. Many of us are empty nesters now.”

The Walkers’ also participate in charity events regularly that have benefited organizations such as Desmond’s Army Animal Law Advocates in Winsted, Dog Star Rescue in Bloomfield, and Connecticut Humane Society and Protectors or Animals, in East Hartford.

“It is important for us to give back in many way,” Jennifer Walker said. “We want to help people that are doing good things.”

This past fall, Kayla Walker received a Women’s Business Development Council Ignite Grant for $10,000 for Hound and Home and Jennifer Walker recently was informed that Muddy Paws Barkery is being awarded the $10,000 grant for the new venture to open a kitchen within the new space.

The businesses also received small business grant funds through the New Haven Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystem program at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven earlier this year, Jennifer Walker said.

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