Katy Portillo’s business is built on treats crafted specifically for man’s best friend. She started with a booth at the Denton Community Market, selling an assortment of crunchy treats, grass-fed beef bones and a hundred pounds of smoked chicken feet each week.
Last year, Portillo opened her brick-and-mortar shop — Susie’s Snack Shop. These days, Portillo is doing more than baking gourmet dog treats and smoking chicken feet (a favorite of her canine clients). In the spring, she sold her first 6-pound bags of her own brand of dog food.
“Muenster Milling Co. approached me with the idea,” Portillo said. “We were at an event, and they knew that I make the dog treats.”
Muenster Milling is a fourth-generation, family-owned company that mills dry feed for dogs, chickens and horses. It also packages the feed for consumers. Portillo, a Denton native and Ryan High School alumna, said she relished the idea of making her own dog food, and having it milled locally.
Her first task was to devise a recipe.
“One thing I’ve learned with the dog treats is that dogs have a palate. Just like people,” she said. “I wanted to stick with what already works. Chicken is pretty much the foundation for dog food. Most dogs will eat chicken, even if it's not their favorite.”
In her years of making foodstuff for dogs — including cakes safe to feed pups — Portillo has also learned that diet can help dogs address common health problems.
“Out in the wild, once a puppy is weaned, they eat the same thing every other dog eats,” Portillo said. “But people want the best for their pets, and a lot of people like to use their dog’s diet to keep them as healthy as they can.”
Her chicken feet — composed of cartilage, skin and claws — are rich in protein. Patrons who buy her chicken feet tell her they help their dogs’ aging backs and joints, as well as clean their teeth.
Portillo formulated three kibbles with dog preference and dietary trends in mind. There’s a duck-based food that is high in protein and low in fat, which is good for dogs who have just grown out of their puppy phase. She’s created a salmon-based food that she says helps the growing brains of puppies and the occasional achy joints of older dogs. Her chicken-based kibble offers lean protein and familiar flavor for dogs.
“All the food is grain-free, soy-free and has non-GMO ingredients,” Portillo said. The ingredients read like a farmer’s market produce section — sweet potato, field peas and dried spinach in the salmon kibble; ocean fish and kelp meal in the duck kibble; and dried blueberries and beet in the chicken kibble.
She wasn’t sure what to expect when she debuted her 6-pound bags of salmon dog food March 15. The last bag sold April 15.
“When I saw how quickly the salmon went, let’s just say I already had a timeline for the duck and chicken, but that timeline moved up,” she said. She’s selling 6-pound bags for $20 each, or two for $35, and 25-pound bags of the salmon and duck kibble for $70. She has plans to send the chicken kibble into production this year.
“Oh, and I’m planning to have dog food available in bulk eventually, probably by the end of the year.” Portillo said. “A lot of people might want to scoop their own food and might want to make their own mix of the food. I’ve probably sold 500 pounds of dog food in the last four months.”
Three local dogs got their first taste of Susie’s Snack Shop dog food. All three were too shy to try the kibble from a ceramic bowl in the shop, but offered some kibble by hand, or on the floor, the salmon food was the favorite of scruffy Chihuahua mixes Bandit and Gizmo. Cinna, a leggy, blue-eyed mutt, preferred the chicken but also had his eye (and his snout) on the treats.
Portillo’s business has built steadily. She and her mother started hashing out the concept of gourmet dog treats soon after Portillo started working in the hospitality industry. After six months of taste tests, the duo went to the community market in 2013 with their first batch of treats. The company is named after Portillo’s corgi Susie, who died in 2015. Portillo still has a pack at home, and they all lend their taste buds to the cause. She is in her seventh season at the community market, which brings customers into the shop. Customers can buy food, treats and handmade pet items at the store. Portillo also sells products at Friday Night Market on Celina’s Historic Square and Liberty Crossing Market Days in Gainesville. Additionally, she has just started selling treats at the Historic McKinney Farmers Market.