Although the opening of Bark Bar is a couple of weeks out, Elizabeth Michael thinks she and business partner Cara Fowler may have a winning formula that can translate to other locations in Arkansas.
Michael hopes that her dog-welcoming restaurant/bar and off-leash dog play area at 1201 Spring St., in a former church in Little Rock’s SoMa neighborhood, will be open by the week of June 12 (but where building and renovation are concerned, timetables must be flexible).
Michael and Fowler blew way past their $5,500 Kickstarter goal to raise money for the dog play area, bringing in $13,536 from 146 backers. That means an upgrade for the area, which will include a turf section, a gravel section, a small pool, rock features and an agility course. (See Bark Bar To Bring Hair of the Dog to SoMa.)
“We think it will really be a fun and lively place,” Michael said. National Greens, a provider and installer of synthetic grass, is creating the yard.
The Kickstarter response signaled a warm public embrace of the project. “Everyone’s so excited,” Michael said. “I think I get around 20 Facebook messages a day, and most of them are ‘When are you going to open?,’ and the rest of them are ‘Can I work for you?’”
For those planning to bring their hounds, Bark Bar has several different membership plans, a $5 day pass, a $20 monthly membership and a $150 annual membership, with an annual membership for an additional dog costing $25. In addition, dog owners must provide details of their pets’ vaccinations to ensure they’re current. The membership fees go toward upkeep of the dog play area, record-keeping and ensuring that the play area is safe. (For membership and other information, visit BarkBar.com.)
“The biggest metric for our success is definitely the number of dog memberships,” Michael said, “and our profit margin for food and beverage. But for dog memberships, just looking at that metric of success, we’ve already doubled the first-year projections.” As of mid-May, Bark Bar had 122 memberships, not including additional dog memberships.
Running the gauntlet of city and state agencies to get the permits and requirements for a dog-friendly restaurant/bar is an agility course for humans, but Michael said she and Fowler have “gotten their blessing every step of the way.”
And having gone through that process, she said, they’ve realized that “we’ve got a good business plan and model in place that’s pretty easily repeatable. Now, we’ve got to get open first,” she acknowledged, laughing.
Michael, director of content and social strategy for Little Rock ad agency CJRW, is the daughter of entrepreneur Paul Michael, founder of the home décor chain the Paul Michael Co., and grew up in her father’s business.
Michael said she and Fowler, who based their projections not only on national industry benchmarks, but also surveys of local businesses, discovered something unexpected.
“What’s interesting is that a lot of folks have said they hope to meet their next boyfriend or girlfriend at Bark Bar,” Michael said. They first had thought their target customers were millennials with an annual household income of $60,000 and who own at least one dog. “And now, our focus has kind of shifted to that single relationship status, because what’s an easier icebreaker?”
Fido would agree.