BRICK – Katherine Ernst got the idea to open a dog treat business for a very simple reason. She wanted to help her own dog, a rescue from a shelter named Piper.
“Like most dogs from shelters, she had some health issues, including resurfacing dry skin here and there, chronic eye and ear infections. At that time, I didn’t know about dog nutrition, so I started researching,” Ernst said.
“I started going to local markets and finding natural foods and other things,” she said. “When I switched over from buying the food to making it myself, all of her symptoms went away. She had so much more energy and her coat got nice and shiny.”
It led her to change her life and start Bark & Bites, selling dog treats online.
“Dogs and their owners are really what keeps my motivation going,” Ernst said. “We have gotten such good feedback about how much our customers and their dogs love to consume our food. We have dog owners with dogs at the end of their lifespan or that have cancer that contact us all the time and tell us how much their pets love to eat what we make and really enjoy the product. If nothing else, it provides a little energy and nutrition. It helps ease whatever discomfort they are experiencing and we have reached so many people, as well as dogs.”
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‘We have always been a dog-loving family’
Ernst was an animal lover from his days growing up in Brick.
“I grew up with a yellow lab named Simba,” Ernst said. “Both my mother and father worked in the Brick schools and one of their co-workers was looking to give Simba away to a home that would provide him with the attention he deserved. We adopted him from that family and we had so much fun growing up with him. He was a great family dog and we would take him on trips and vacations. We have always been a dog-loving family and we take care of each other’s dogs to this day when one of us is out of town.”
Ernst said growing up around dogs played a role in her business and how she runs it.
“My parents never had pets growing up,” Ernst said. “It was new for them and they knew nothing about health or nutrition for dogs. They just did the best they could and figured everything out by paying attention to what was recommended on the food shelves. They didn’t pay very close attention to the ingredients or knowing what other alternatives there would be.
“Unfortunately, we had to put Simba down at age 10,” Ernst said. “This really affected me and, when I got my own dog, Piper, years later, I started to pay really close attention to what goes into dog food and the nutrition aspect of it.”
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Before her days with Bark and Bites, Ernst was a journalist at heart, which started during her days in elementary school at Saint Dominic’s in Brick.
“I just knew that I wanted to be a news anchor and I would do the news announcements and we even had a weather team,” Ernst said. “I would follow my dreams all the way through high school and after graduating from Brick Township High School, I would attend Salisbury University and studied broadcast journalism. I started in sports and transitioned to weather, but I loved to interview small business owners the most, which is kind of funny because that’s what I am now.
“I was working for a few years on a morning news show, which spanned from 11 or 12 at night to 10 in the morning,” Ernst said. “For anyone who has worked that kind of journalism, it can be draining and can take a toll. At one point, I just said, “I don’t think I would want to do this for the next 20 or 30 years.”
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‘I knew I wanted a change’
In 2018, Ernst was working in Sarasota, Florida, and was producing the morning show there. While there she worked with The Humane Society of Sarasota to rescue a dog there, Piper.
“After rescuing Piper, I was inspired to do something different with my life,” Ernst said. “I had the itch knew to move back home and I wanted a change, but I just wasn’t sure what it was.”
While taking a trip with Piper, Ernst was looking all over for dog treats that would cool Piper down but didn’t contain a lot of dairy and preservatives. That’s how Ernst got the idea to make frozen treats for dogs.
“We started as an online frozen dog treat company, but I never though of turning it into a brick and mortar business, even when I realized how beneficial it was and how there was nothing on the store shelves like it,” Ernst said. “Especially if you live in a warm climate or even in New Jersey during the summer, there are a lot of 90-plus degree days. For dogs in these situations, they need to cool down. I developed a product which was all natural without any fillers or mess with their stomachs.”
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With the helpful advice of her brother, Mike, Ernst moved back home in 2019 and opened Bark and Bites in November 2019.
“It was received so well and the best part of it was that so many people found it helpful,” Ernst said. “Our frozen treats really allow dogs to calm down and rehydrate. It also slows their heart rate and brings their body temperature down to a sustainable level. I was excited to experiment with so many fruits and vegetables that have so many vitamins and minerals, as well as major health benefits too.”
Ernst started her business as primarily online in 2019, right before the pandemic. “I’m very happy that we went the online route,” Ernst said. “Thankfully, the orders come in to our website and we deliver to all of Monmouth and Ocean County. We weren’t affected too much, as we would leave the packages on the doorstep for our customers, where they could come out safely and pick it up. We made sure to adapt and keep a conservative pace to safely adjust to the unknown.”
After starting with just one type of frozen dog treats, she has grown the business into many more.
“We have the Freezie Fido Bowls, which come in an ice cream cup,” Ernst said. “The flavors for those change each season. We also have our Mutt Crunch Cookies, which come in many different flavors like apple peanut butter and pumpkin peanut butter. Those change with the seasons as well.
“We have Paw Bites, which are bite-size frozen treats in the shape of paws that go well with smaller dogs,” Ernst said. “Everything we have is made from scratch and we don’t use dyes or any artificial ingredients. There is no dairy, so all our stuff is perfectly healthy to eat.”
In addition to the online presence, Bark and Bites will be available at famer’s markets in Brick and Marlboro this summer.
Her ambition does not end there.
“We want to get into local grocery stores with our product and maybe one day have our own location,” Ernst said. “We feel like getting the product out to other vendors and opening an official location is the best way to continue evolving the business.”
Bark and Bites
owners: Katherine Ernest