The Downtown Farmers’ Market is all about keeping things as local as possible. The more commerce we can keep here in the community the better in our opinion. We love finding more and more ways to make the local option the most viable one. It only makes sense that this commitment would soon extend passed our own mouths to include our furbabies as well. This gap is merged by Steve and Connie Sutton, the pet-loving couple behind Dewey’s Dog Treats. Steve shows up most weeks with his signature straw hat, Connie sports her warm smile, and Duey the dog by their side. Every time I have a moment at their booth I get sucked in by how beautiful their displays of look: biscuits, doggy cupcakes, and dehydrated sweet potato curls meticulously arranged on a gigantic bone shaped table. Intrigued and not really knowing anything about dog treats, we went back and forth trying to arrange a behind the scenes peek that didn’t cause to much of a disruption to their business and life. The perfect opportunity finally presented itself one Monday evening and I excitedly drove to the Sutton’s home to take a gander at what goes into making some of the prettiest baked good I’ve ever seen.
“You made it!” Connie said opening their front door wide to let me in. Steve smiled and greeted me as Duey ecstatically bounced
around in welcome. A second caramel colored dog lingered coyly in the corner. “That’s Shiloh. She is very shy.” Steve commented. I was quickly led to the kitchen where I participated in the mandatory visitor treat giving to the pups, and where the heart of the Dewey’s Dog operation resides. “WOW!” I said looking at the wall of plastic organizers labeled with different treat offerings. “This looks so professional!” I said walking over to the racks. “Yes, we’ve been at this for a while and have really streamlined our process,” Steve explained. “How long have you been doing this?” I pressed. “Well Connie has had a long-time interest in wholesome dog treats and made her first batch in 2008,” Steve started, “At that time we also looked into trying to find a side business we could do for ourselves. This was right after the recession. With a little bit of research, we found out that during the recession the only industry that wasn’t affected was the pet food industry. So, we started messing around.” Around 4 years later after testing and perfecting their recipes they kicked off their doggy baked good at the Tuachan market, joining the Ancestor Square Farmers’ Market the next season. “We’ve been at the Downtown Farmers’ market every season since then, except for the two years we had the store. There’s no place like Ancestor Square! You can quote me on that.” Steve laughed. “Oh I will!” I retorted.
“So where do you come up with your recipes?” I asked wondering if cooking for dogs was remotely similar to cooking for humans. “It started out with a lot of research,” Connie said thoughtfully, “I wanted to make something that was gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, and egg free. This led me to a recipe from the Great Depression called whacky cake. I used that as a jumping off point and started experimenting testing the treats out on Dewey and Shiloh. The original recipe has oil in it, but we don’t use that.” “Do you want to see our 3 main ingredients?” Steve smiled. He then went into the pantry and brought out two gigantic bags of Bob’s Red Mill rice flour and gluten free all-purpose baking flour and set them on the counter. From there he walked over and grabbed a container of organic peanut butter and set it in front. “These form the base of our treats. We also dehydrate all the other ingredients ourselves.” I followed Steve over to the industrial shelf where he pointed out the homemade jerky, dried apple slices, bananas, and sweet potato curls. “You guys make your own jerky?” I asked. “Yep! London broil.” Connie answered unphased. Looking at the containers on the shelf then to the cooling racks on the counter, the sheer amount of labor that went into every treat was beginning to dawn on me. “So, Connie will take those ingredients and grind them down and make different flavors. She’ll also do that to get the coloring. We use Carob as a dog safe chocolate flavoring.” He pulled out a container of little square treats whose color immediately conjured up visions of gingerbread. “That’s so cool.” I whispered as I inspected the treats. Steve continued without missing a beat, “Connie also makes all the colored frosting herself. It’s a tapioca-based frosting and let’s say we need a red, she’ll dehydrate cranberries crush them down and there you go.” I turned back to Connie who was standing quietly in the kitchen smiling. “This is a lot of work.” I blurted out idiotically. They both laughed.
“Yes it’s a lot… Connie does 98% of it and she does it all by hand. All the cutting, all the decorating, all of it.” Steve added. Connie smiled modestly. Steve then told me that he was developing a mechanical roller to at least help with getting consistent thicknesses and alleviating some of the manual labor. “So do you guys only do this to sell at the farmers market? Or do you sell other places?” I asked trying to mentally tally up the amount of Connie’s life spent in the kitchen. “No we have the online store and we sell at a couple places throughout the city. One of our main partners is the Best Friends Animal Society we’ve worked with them for over 4 years.” Steve then walked me through starting out with a dozen bags here and there, then growing to making 200 bags every 6 to 8 weeks. “We couldn’t have picked an industry with more competition. There are a lot dog treat brands out there, but we rely on the quality of our product. Which made it really exciting when we started outselling the competition,” Steve said. I nodded in agreement thinking of homegrown tomatoes versus store bought. Quality is always noticeable. Then it struck me: 200 bags by hand. I turned to Connie, “How long does an order like that take you to make?” She laughed probably at the visible distress on my face, “If I hit it hard around 2 weeks. They need to be as fresh as possible because the only preservative is citric acid but I do try to anticipate our customers as much as I can.” “When you say 2 weeks, is that all day for 2 weeks or is that pacing yourself?” I asked trying to organize my thoughts. “That’s 2 weeks all day, every day.” Connie chuckled half exasperated half amused, “But it’s my passion so it’s worth it. And I love how many rescues this has gotten us involved with.” Steve nodded in support, “It’s insane in here when we have orders but we love it.” We stood in the kitchen in a moment of imaginary overwhelm at the amount of work that was waiting just days away. “Hold on. You guys also make special occasion dog cakes, right? Where does that fit in?” I questioned. Connie explained that they seek out dog bakeries when on vacation because it’s a hobby and their business. On a trip to California, they stumbled on one that was printing pictures of dogs on cakes. “I freaked and asked the lady how she was doing the pictures. She walked me through it and I was sold.” Connie and Steve then recounted some of their customers and their crazy, fun stories. They’ve done birthday cakes, adoption cakes, and K-9 police dog retirement cakes. “People order the cake then we meet them locally for the pick-up. At some point, we get to meet the dog and learn more about them. It’s been so much fun,” Connie grinned.
Duey sauntered over to me and nudged my hand with his sweet little black face. “Hey Duey…” I said stroking his ears. “So his name is spelled d-u-e-y and the company is d-e-w-e-y right?” I clarified while gently running my fingers behind the pup’s half bent ears. “Yes because he’s not the original Dewey. This is the original Dewey,” Steve pointed to a wood burned portrait of a very different dog. “It’s actually a crazy story how we ended up with him.” Steve looked at Connie to fill in the gaps. Connie explained how they had rescued the original Dewey when he was 2 from a shelter in Vegas and had him for 13 years, “I couldn’t take that dog anywhere. People recognized him and would stop us, he also had this signature tail wag that was so unique. After he passed,” Connie sighed, “I swore no more dogs.” Two weeks later, a video from B.A.M. showed up in her timeline. “It caught my eye because this dog was doing the same thing with his tail that Dewey did. About a minute into the video they said his name was Duey and I knew it was a sign.” Connie called that afternoon. Duey had been admitted to the shelter with a crushed hip joint, whoever ended up taking him would have to commit to the surgery and the 12 weeks of rehab. Connie and Steve volunteered without blinking an eye. “We worked very closely with Woof out in Santa Clara and he’s made a full recovery.” Connie finished. “Well it looks like everyone’s made a full recovery!” I added. We laughed for a minute. “YES!” Steve added. We all looked at Duey and I shook my head at this dog’s sheer dumb luck that he stumbled broken into probably the most perfect home he could’ve dreamed of, eating gourmet treats all day. Those feelings were immediately followed by gratitude for people like Steve and Connie who take care of animals and give them good homes. Duey had no idea what I was thinking but was happy to be there.
We continued chatting, I found out that Connie and Steve have a long history of adopting and fostering animals. Way back in the day before they were married, Connie lived in Huntington Beach, California and had become locally known as ‘The Dog Lady.’ “People would move and leave their animals, I would foster them and try and find them homes. At one point I had 12 dogs!” Connie exclaimed. Several stories later it became so crystal clear that the reason so much love is poured into these treats is because Connie and Steve love animals so much. We talked about the store and the absolute draining chaos of managing a physical location. “You want to see something cool?” Steve coaxed us into the front room where a huge carved dog head hung on the wall. “This was the old store sign made by Rorr Productions from Salt Lake. It’s based off a picture of Dewey.” I stood there examining the beautiful hand carving and detail. Connie then showed me a picture of Duey laying on the couch below the sign. How perfect, I thought, old and new hanging out together. Steve and Connie then gave me a gigantic stuffed dog that also used to be part of the store to take home to my son. As I said goodbye and loaded up, I again found myself so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to see behind the curtain. To meet these people and see the amount of love and work that gets poured into every product makes me proud to be a part of the St. George community.
You can purchase Dewey’s Dog Treats at the Downtown Farmers’ Market on Saturday or at Best Friends animal shelter. You can also place orders for treats on their website deweysdogtreats.com local pickup options are available. You can also find them on Facebook HERE.