ARKANSAS BUSINESS On Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 12:00 am - Bark Bar, the dream of a couple of dog-loving Little Rock women, is several steps closer to reality, says Elizabeth Michael.
She and business partner Cara Fowler have raised all the money they need to open what Michael describes as “Arkansas’ first off-leash dog park and restaurant/bar,” in a former church that once housed Dreamweavers Inc. at 1201 Spring St. in the SoMa neighborhood.
In addition, Michael said, the Little Rock Planning Commission has approved Bark Bar’s request for a variance and Bark Bar has received preliminary approval from the state Health Department.
And as of Thursday afternoon, Bark Bar had raised $3,916 toward a $5,500 goal on Kickstarter to enhance the bar’s plans for a dog play area and an agility course featuring some sort of water feature, such as, according to the Kickstarter campaign, “a puppy pool to help your pooch cool off on those hot summer days!”
“We’ve had a lot of hurdles along the way to make this a reality,” said Michael, director of content and social strategy for Little Rock ad agency CJRW. She won’t be quitting her day job; Fowler, who has a background in events planning, will be the full-time operator of Bark Bar.
Last May, the two were lamenting the fact that they couldn’t enjoy a meal and drinks out while in the company of their dogs, when Fowler broached the idea of what would become Bark Bar. “By the next day, we had picked a spot and started the process,” Michael said.
And it has been a process, she said, what with the need for permits from the city and state for what is a novel venture in Arkansas.
However, Michael said, city and state officials have been helpful, and the project has received a lot of support, including from neighbors. The immediate neighbors are commercial, but residences are located within a couple of blocks of 1201 Spring.
The only way that Bark Bar would work financially is to have a full bar, said Michael, who as the daughter of Paul Michael, founder of the home décor chain the Paul Michael Co., knows a little something about entrepreneurial challenges. “I grew up in that industry,” she said.
Bark Bar will have a couple of revenue streams in addition to the restaurant/bar: memberships for the regulars (the dogs, that is) and a small retail space. The memberships will allow the establishment to keep vaccination information on file, much as kennels do. And Bark Bar will be partnering with Fur & Collar, a Little Rock pet products company, and offering locally sourced dog foods and treats.
As for the restaurant’s offerings, Michael and Fowler — perhaps unsurprisingly — are looking at a gourmet hotdog menu. “We’re really all about the dog puns,” Michael said, laughing.
But Bark Bar also plans to offer hot food options for dogs. Michael has even asked her sister-in-law, a scientist, to help develop a bacon-flavored doggie ale.
Adam Day is Bark Bar’s landlord. An architect at AMR Architects Inc. in Little Rock, Day is designing Bark Bar. Michael hopes to begin renovation work on the building in about a month.
“We want this to be a place for the community to come and not feel that they’re being ostracized because they have a dog,” she said.
Michael, who recently earned an MBA from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, declined to share the cost of their project but said she and Fowler have been careful with their money.
Michael said she thought: “I’ve been making these financial models for fake businesses to get my MBA. Why not do it to make my friend’s dream come true?”