By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
When Tena Northern got her husband Dawayne a puppy for Christmas 2013, she also got herself a ticket to a new business venture.
Buddy the weimaraner is the first pet the couple has had in 30 years. When Tena found herself unemployed for the second time due to company downsizing, the Keizer resident was pushed towards becoming self-employed.
That led to her new business: Buddy and Friends, which makes gluten-free gourmet dog treats.
“I found I had to go gluten-free in April,” Tena said. “I feel so much better. I did research on how much wheat is in foods. I wondered if any pets were going through this. I did some research and was astounded by how many pets have itching or skin issues due to their diet. That’s where this whole thing came about. The employment office is giving me a chance and I’m running with it.”
Buddy, who was far too excited to sit still for an interview, didn’t just lend his name to the company. He also has his own Facebook (Dogbook?) page and gets to try the treats.
“Buddy is going to eat anything I give him,” Tena acknowledged. “Buddy doesn’t have a favorite flavor. He likes them all. I always try the treats on friends’ pets as well.”
Tena started the business in August and has three flavors so far: A Taste of Autumn includes peanut butter, molasses and pumpkin; A Taste of Winter has fresh chopped apples, honey and fresh mint while Cheezy Chicken has grated cheddar cheese and chicken broth.
“People are really open to it,” Tena said of early reaction. “This doesn’t have any grains in it. We can make them dairy-free. We can make whatever the customer needs. They are packaged as six ounces. We want to keep them affordable, not too heavy on weight. We have gotten great feedback.”
Tena runs the business along with daughter Amee – she figured if she had a common name with an unusual spelling, she would pass that along – as well as her four-legged friend.
“My daughter was eager to come on board,” Tena said. “She is my person who is good at talking to people, customer service, explaining what treats we have.”
The mother-daughter combo started selling the treats the first weekend in October at the Salem Farmer’s Market. Things have been somewhat up and down, varying by the weekend.
“I hope at some point to get a small space and a store, where people can come in and get the treats, pick and choose how much they want,” Tena said. “Before Christmas business was going great. I knew it was going to be solw. It won’t be an overnight success.”
Amee has found education being important for potential customers.
“They usually go ‘Oh’ with a puzzled look or ‘I didn’t know dogs need gluten-free,’” Amee said. “We bake the treats and work the markets together.”
Amee feels a difference will be noticeable in dogs.
“Over time there can be a major difference in their attitude and how they act,” she said. “It’s just treats right now, not the main part of the diet. The dogs seem to really like it.”