A Dog's Dinner
Entrepreneur Daisy Nicolas had an idea: she believed that dogs are more than loyal friends. In fact, they're beloved family members who deserve natural, real dog food that’s healthy, high-quality, and wholly delicious. Daisy couldn't see it then, but that idea would grow a full-fledged business centered on her greatest passions. She didn't have a business degree, but Daisy had twenty-five years of culinary experience working at some of the premier hotels and top resorts. Thanks to her culinary background, passion for natural dog food, and support from the Alaska Women's Business Center, Drool Central is thriving. Drool Central is a "mum & pup barkery" that “loves dogs as much as you do”. Drool Central offers home-baked foods ranging from dog-friendly birthday cakes to wild Alaska salmon jerky. All contain the perfect balance of protein, fat, fiber, and Omega 3s.
Daisy’s hard work has made Drool Central a barkery that will have pups—and their parents—wagging their tails.
Daisy attended the California Culinary Academy and Tante Marie's Cooking School in San Francisco. She then externed at the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco. During her experience as a chef, she worked in restaurants throughout California, Washington, Utah, New York, Nevada, and Alaska. Daisy says it was working in small, remote lodges in Alaska where she felt most comfortable. “It was cooking for fishing lodges in remote Alaska that I enjoyed the most. That's where my dog, Dallas, could be with me.” She left her final job as a lodge chef in 2012. That's when she decided to test the waters of starting a small business. “I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit of knowing when and how to sell an idea or product. Without the ‘sales talk’,” Daisy says. “But what was my idea? What was ‘my thing’?”
Old Dog, New Tricks
There was one constant in Daisy’s life: her adopted dog, Dallas. She was a companion, confidante, and unbeknownst to Daisy, her future business partner. It occurred to Daisy how frequently people asked about her beautiful yellow Labrador. How did she keep Dallas so healthy and happy? Even further, why were their pets experiencing health issues?
Dallas was Daisy’s first dog, and due to Daisy’s culinary background, cooking organic, real dog food was a natural choice. "I was looking around for dog treats and my dog was turning her nose up. The ingredients are just horrible.” She realized the apparent need in the marketplace for healthy, homemade dog food made with locally sourced ingredients. From there, a business plan began to brew. Daisy could draw on her culinary background and help pet parents take charge of their pup's diet and health. And living in Alaska, local ingredients contained all the nutrients dogs need.
“When I make my products, I remove all the crap that [dogs] don't need, but people love," she says. "Dogs don't taste; they use their nose. They smell. A lot of the recipes out there are based on human taste. There's no corn, no wheat, no soy, no processed fats, and no spices. I've been cooking for my dog for so many years, and I don't use any of those."
Rolling with the Big Dogs
Daisy rented a small space and spent several years crafting recipes with Dallas as the official Master Taster. She opened Drool Central: A Mum & Pup Bakery in 2013 and started building a client base of friends and acquaintances. In 2014, Daisy then began selling her products at the South Anchorage Farmer’s Market and local food events in Anchorage. Daisy says she knew success would come by showing up and becoming actively involved in her community. This led to an opportunity to be featured on the local news. “There’s always an opportunity out there,” Daisy says. “I never turn down opportunities no matter how small they are. I always see through to that.”
Daisy knew she had found her niche. Unfortunately, the demand for all-natural, high-quality dog food was too much for her kitchen to handle. Daisy needed a permanent storefront where her growing four-legged clients and their parents could visit and enjoy a homemade treat. Daisy needed an organization with a financial advisor that could provide her with constructive advice and guidance. What she wanted was an organization that loved dogs as much as she did. That’s when she discovered the Alaska Women's Business Center (AWBC) at Business Impact NW. “When I hear or read about community organizations that help small businesses, I just jump in,” Daisy says. “I don’t have a business degree; I only operate based on instinct.”
Daisy attended an On-Demand Loan Readiness Certification course and was able to connect with an AWBC business coach for counseling sessions. Daisy had high ambitions for Dog Drool's success, and that growth meant securing a small business loan. What helped Daisy stand out was her commitment to only using fresh, regional ingredients. Her high-quality dog food not only garnered a loyal client base, but it was instrumental in supporting Alaskan farmers and fishermen. The AWBC recognized Drool Central's role in uplifting the Alaskan small business ecosystem and Daisy was able to secure lending support. With guidance from the loan readiness center, financing from Business Impact NW, and her own instincts, Daisy had the confidence she needed to grow Drool Central.
Every Dog Has Its Day
Drool Central has only grown in size and scope. Her storefront now hosts various fundraisers to support dog-centric causes like Paws for Purple Hearts. In addition to the many products found online, pups can also enjoy specials, such as dog-friendly pizza. Drool Central is open on Saturdays between 12 – 4.
Looking to the future, Daisy says she wants to expand her brick-and-mortar and online store. But she likes to look at things realistically. Daisy evaluates what she has accomplished and makes a reasonable goal she wants to achieve next. Sadly, Dallas passed away in 2021. Daisy says, “My dog’s absence cements my company’s mission. I will continue her inspiration and continue providing healthy natural real food for dogs.” Dallas’ legacy and Drool Central’s prosperity make it clear: wherever Daisy decides to take her business will be a howling success.
Are you passionate about an idea but need help getting your business started? Business Impact NW is a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) dedicated to serving underbanked entrepreneurs. We provide coaching, classes, and access to capital to community small businesses, with an emphasis on working with traditionally underserved populations – entrepreneurial low/moderate income earners, women, BIPOC, veterans, immigrants, or members of the LGBTQ+ community. Visit businessimpactnw.org and learn how we can help you launch and grow your business.
About the author
Janelle is a storyteller through and through. She was raised in a family of entrepreneurs who owned and managed a series of small businesses, including a Hawaiian restaurant, a video store, and several real estate properties. Growing up in a low-income community but attending schools as a minority in affluent areas, she struggled with the inequities she faced each day. As a Bay Area native, Janelle has witnessed the rise and fall of countless startups and small businesses. She has worked for a number of nonprofits and has remained steadfast in her commitment to using her craft to support the missions of each organization, and uplift underserved communities throughout the Bay Area.
Janelle graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, specializing in screenwriting and playwriting. She worked as a copywriter for companies such as Coldwell Banker, Callisto Media, a publisher of nonfiction and self-help books, and Artslandia magazine, a premier publisher of performing arts playbills throughout the Portland metro area. In a leap of faith, Janelle moved her family to Seattle in 2021 and worked with Committee for Children, an educational nonprofit committed to supporting the well-being of children through social-emotional learning.