Amanda Colanino wants every dog to feel welcome walking through her front door.
The owner of DogGurt opened a new storefront in northwest Bellevue on June 9, expanding the footprint of her small business while hoping to be part of a revitalization along Harrison Street by bringing in customers from across the Omaha metropolitan area.
Her signature frozen yogurt for dogs uses no more than four human-grade, organic ingredients per flavor, with no sugar or preservatives. Colanino said the probiotics help counteract the lactose, which aids digestion.
“The fact that it’s so frozen keeps them busy for a while, until they figure out how to get it out,” Colanino said.
Colanino started DogGurt in 2012 after experimenting with frozen treats for his own dogs. She was looking at the ingredients for Frosty Paws, Purina’s mass market dog ice cream, and couldn’t identify the ingredients being used. So she made something with ingredients that she could pronounce and felt good about giving to her dogs.
People are also reading…
“It just grew from there,” Colanino said. “I quit drinking five and a half years ago and decided that this was my absolute passion, and I’ve been going with it ever since.”
When she made the transition from serving friends and families as a hobby to promoting DogGurt as a local brand, Colanino started doing the farmers market circuit — including a booth at the Bellevue Farmers Market on Saturdays — as well as the growing number of dog-based events around the Omaha area, some of which Colanino helped organize.
In recent years, and particularly since the spike in dog ownership associated with the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the dog scene in Omaha has grown to include what are essentially craft fairs for dog-oriented businesses, such as the Doggy Barket organized by Omaha Parks & Recreation at Dewey Park, as well as fundraisers for rescue dogs and enrichment events organized by pet supply stores.
Colanino said the next step for her business was opening a storefront. She had operated a small production space in Ralston, where she would meet customers picking up orders, but she wanted a space with regular open hours for customers to drop in when convenient.
“This is gonna be an awesome place to hang out because there’s no other pet stores around here,” Colanino said. “We’re hoping that we’re more of a South Omaha stop.”
They’re also hoping to part of the commercial rejuvenation of the area along 39th and Harrison streets, which has seen some of its vacant spaces being filled and now has a food truck that’s parked in the area every Saturday.
“We’re hoping to revitalize this area and have events out in the parking lot,” Colanino said. “This is literally 30 seconds from my house.”
The space that DogGurt leased was a laundromat and was “a mess” when Colanino took over, but the inexpensive rent and ample parking were enticing. Customers are willing to seek out places that are dog friendly, where they can build community with other dog lovers.
“The dog community is getting bigger,” Colanino said. “A lot of people got dogs over COVID, and now they’re out to spoil them rotten, and that’s what we’re here for… I mean, I have four dogs at home and I still spoil the crap out of them . That’s what you do.”
COVID is also what pushed Colanino into making DogGurt her full-time business. She had been working as the bar manager for VFW Post 2503 when one of the first cases of COVID-19 in Omaha was reported. When they decided to reopen, she didn’t feel comfortable going back.
“I was like, all right, I guess it’s all or nothing with DogGurt now because I have to pay my bills,” Colanino said. “If I went my whole life without trying to go full-time with my dream, I think I would be kicking myself.”
Colanino emphasized customer service and marketing to build her brand, and she said she loves all of the dogs like they’re her own — building relationships with the customers and their dogs through those personal interactions.
“It doesn’t feel like work, so that’s fantastic,” Colanino said.
Colanino built a network of retail partners that sell her DogGurt, including Pet Supplies Plus and Hy-Vee, but it can be a challenge to keep those stores adequately stocked. She said the Hy-Vee in Papillion’s Shadow Lake Towne Center has been a particularly robust partner, which moved DogGurt into the ice cream aisle.
DogGurt can also be found in two shops in Colorado and one in Minnesota. Longterm, Colanino said she would like to move to Colorado and hand over her Omaha operations to someone she can trust, growing DogGurt into a regional business that has a distributor.
Colanino also offers a line of DogGurt infused with cannabidiol, often just called CBD, a chemical sourced from cannabis that can help with stress and anxiety. She partners with noteCBD, which is operated by a former high school classmate of Colanino’s in Fort Collins, Colorado. She said that CBD has helped “a ton of dogs get through the Fourth of July and summer thunderstorms.”
DogGurt’s partnerships go far beyond CBD, though. The small business has helped forge connections with others throughout the area, including Brixtix, a bakery founded in 2013 that also operates a retail counter and shares the prep space with Colanino’s business.
Cuppy Romer started Brixtix, named after her dogs Brixton and Matix, while living in Atlanta in 2013. She said she left Atlanta because of the cost and traffic, plus the market for her business was saturated.
“A friend actually offered for me to come stay with her when I first moved her,” said Cuppy, who goes by her first name and now lives in North Omaha. “She had a space for me to run the bakery out of her basement, so I took the opportunity.”
Brixtix does a variety of cookies and cakes, many with puns or irreverent messages, as well as custom-order products, like wedding cakes, baby shower cakes and puppy shower treats.
“I’ve done cookies for people that are getting married and they want to give out dog treats at their wedding as a favor,” Cuppy said. “Custom work is always fun because it’s a one-off.”
Business skyrocketed when she came to Omaha, and when Colanino asked if she would like to share a storefront, Cuppy seized the opportunity to share the risk and further grow her business.
“It’s always been something that I wanted,” Cuppy said. “When I was in Atlanta, everyone was really competitive and sort of hateful at each other, and here’s the complete opposite, Even if we’re doing similar stuff, there’s plenty to go around for all of us to succeed, and I like that mindset way better. Let’s support each other.”
The Bellevue storefront is also being used to sell merchandise from several other local merchants specializing in canine products, such as collars, bows, leashes, treats, puppy portraits and even dog-friendly beer.
“If we can all be kicking ass together, then why wouldn’t we do that?” Cuppy said.
Colanino said she’s excited to collaborate with her new partner on projects such as ice cream cakes and DogGurt cupcakes going forward.
DogGurt and Brixtix are operating independently in the space, and the other products are being purchased wholesale to be placed in the shop — putting money in the hands of those small businesses right away.
“We’ll start small and hope that we get a lot of foot traffic,” Colanino said.
The shop is already planning several special events, including:
A pride event Thursday, June 26, from 2 to 4 pm featuring a free slice of Brixtix cake and pride JaxSnax.
A grand opening Saturday, July 9, from 4 to 7 pm featuring food, drinks, raffles, contests and specials.
A benefit for senior dogs at Northern Plains Boxer Rescue on Saturday, July 23, from noon to 3 pm
DogGurt’s and Brixtix’s storefront is located at 6918 S. 39th Ave. in Bellevue and is open 10 am to 7 pm Thursdays through Saturdays and from 10 am to 4 pm Sundays.