Walking into Kelly’s K-9 Kitchen on Howard Avenue in The Market Common might be like visiting a bake shop in a French country town or on a once-bustling Main Street in America’s heartland.
But this bakery is for man’s best friend.
Once through the front door bearing a logo and the slogan, “Hand-Crafted Tail-Wagging Dog Treats,” the space is alive with all manner of artisanal baked goods, dog-related art and accessories.
The kitchen is separated by a plexiglass partition and a checkout counter.
When The Sun News visited for this story, owner Kelly Grindstaff was placing trays of cookies into a convection oven.
Grindstaff and her husband, Rob, moved to Longs in May after visiting the Grand Strand for many years. She owns another Kelly’s K-9 Kitchen location in Lowell, N.C., and opened The Market Common location on June 5.
Working as a chemist by day, she started making treats for her family’s animals around Christmas.
“I love to bake, so I did a little research,” she said. “Honesty, making dog treats is more difficult than making stuff for humans. It’s definitely an art, and it took me a lot of tries to get it.”
With peanut butter as the main ingredient, she played around in her kitchen — cutting the treats into shapes and putting them into little Christmas bags. They were a hit with the dogs.
Her friends and family encouraged her to try to sell them, but at first she waved off such prodding.
“After about three months, I thought, ‘Why not? Why couldn’t I?’”
She began selling her products at festivals and, eventually, the Christmas Made in the South Show in Concord, N.C. Grindstaff sold out on the first day and had to rush home to whip up another batch. She made enough money from that show to buy a brand-new stove with a convection oven.
Soon enough, Grindstaff was selling her creations online, and she developed a five-year business plan.
“I took my time,” she said. “My goal was to have a store, so within five years I was able to open my first store in North Carolina — and then my next goal was to eventually have a store down here in Myrtle Beach. Fortunately, it happened way sooner than we thought.”
She quit her job at the end of April.
Kelly’s K-9 Kitchen produces cookies, muffins, brownies, Pup Cakes (cupcakes) dog-friendly ice cream, customized birthday cakes and much more. The products contain human-grade ingredients with no added chemicals, preservatives, dyes or hormones.
And Grindstaff has sampled the goods.
“The no-wheat ones always smell really good when they come out of the oven — and they look like human peanut butter cookies with the little crisscross marks in them.”
She needed to use a banana recently, so she whipped up a peanut butter-banana-bacon concoction that ultimately became part of her product line as Hound Cake. Not only did she try it, but one of her basset hound rescues, Luna, also took an approving bite.
She currently has another basset hound, Copper, and a cat named Tiger. The bassets can usually be found at the shop.
Autumn Shubert, a first grade teacher visiting from Maryland, noted Grindstaff’s kindness in a Facebook review and the fact that her dachshund/pit bull mix enjoyed the Pup Cake — especially the icing.
“I’m moving to Myrtle Beach within the next month and will be visiting her shop often. My pup loved her goodies,” she said in an email.
Mike Teorsky recently ordered a custom cake while visiting from Freeport, Pa.
“My 11-year-old yellow lab, Hadley, spends her birthday at the beach each year and this year we wanted to do something special,” he said via email. “Kelly not only made a great birthday cake for Hadley, but also all the other dogs in our campground. She was a great communicator and made exactly what we were looking for.”
Rob Grindstaff, a multimedia designer, said the couple came down twice to look at homes and possible business locations.
“We located an ideal spot for her store at The Market Common and found a perfect house on the second trip. Everything came together in a month’s time after six months of planning,” he said, adding that he arranged with his employer to work remotely.
One employee runs the North Carolina location, and Kelly Grindstaff visits once a month to grab supplies and to trade certain baked goods.
She said the prospect of full-time entrepreneurship is terrifying and it’s sometimes hard to sleep at night, but she is passionate about her work and cites guts and faith to get her through.
“I truly believe that God has blessed me in many ways and that every step I have taken has been because another door has opened — so it’s like either you go through it or you don’t,” she said. “But you have to have a really strong faith. It’s gotten me this far and I haven’t given up yet.”
For more information, visit www.kellysk9kitchen.com