Jennifer StCyr and John Pickle III certainly know how to test a relationship.
For three years, the couple worked side-by-side in the tight quarters of a food cart but are now upping the ante with each opening their own businesses just weeks apart.
StCyr (pronounced saint sigh-er) has just opened Dog Dog, a more than 4,800-square-foot urban dog daycare facility at 1201 N. Sherman Ave. in the Northgate Shopping Center. In a month or so, her husband will move out of the Pickle Jar food cart and into a brick and mortar restaurant of the same name at 141 S. Butler St. The opening will culminate a hectic few months for the entrepreneurial couple who moved to Madison from Kansas in 2003 and have remained together.
"We really don't get to see each other all that often. It's a little crazy," StCyr said. "We know what our goal is and we each know our roles and we have a really strong relationship. We take it day by day."
Pets are big business in Madison. Mounds Pet Food Warehouse has five locations; MadCat just announced a plan to quadruple the size of its Williamson Street store by a move in early 2019 to the former Brew & Grow space down the street; and locally-owned Tabby & Jacks, a pet supply and grooming business founded in 2007, now has locations in Fitchburg Middleton and Stoughton. A $3 million project is converting the former Middleton Junction School and adjacent additions along Junction Road near Mineral Point Road on Madison's Far West Side into Passion for Paws, a veterinary clinic, dog daycare and a boarding facility for cats and dogs while other pet day care and boarding facilities include business like Ruffin' It Resort, Camp K9, Dog Haus University and Central Bark.
But with waiting lists at most dog day care facilities, StCyr sees an opportunity in pet-centric Madison. She and her husband had been preparing food for their food cart at the FEED Kitchen in the parking lot of the shopping center and when they realized that a former restaurant space was empty they scoped it for a dog day care. The Alexander Company, landlord of the shopping center, offered a build out that included a new fire sprinkler system, heating and air conditioning and a continuous fresh air feature that replaces air in the building at a high rate, something that will be healthier for the dogs, StCyr said.
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StCyr also liked the location at the intersection of Aberg and N. Sherman avenues, the ample amount of parking and easy access to the facility. The daycare also includes five-foot-tall walls that provide borders for two 800 square-foot interior play areas and another interior space that is just over 1,000-square-feet. A small yard in the back is used for bathroom breaks for the dogs but the vast majority of a dog's stay at Dog Dog is indoors. Dogs are separated by size but the business does not offer over night stays.
"Dogs will play where ever they play," StCyr said. "They're not too particular whether it's inside or outside. Dog daycare is a really great way for dogs to socialize."
And thousands of dog owners agree. There are waiting lists at most facilities and StCyr said she expects her current roster of 11 to 20 dogs a day to hit 60, which is her maximum, by the end of the year. Dog Dog currently has three employees but another two to three are being sought. The facility also has space for a dog groomer while Tyrese Evans offers an obedience training program through his company, A Howling Good Time, that is an extra charge from day care.
"Not only will training be ongoing but the dogs will be around other dogs in the daycare and they'll get that socialization," Evans said.
StCyr's father was in the Navy and later worked as an executive so she lived as a child up and down the west and east coasts before settling in Long Island, New York. In 2003, she was working as a graphics designer in Topeka, Kansas, but when she was laid off, she and her husband decided to make the move to Wisconsin, where Pickle has family. Pickle worked in a Madison manufacturing facility for over nine years while StCyer had stints at Whole Foods and went back to school for web development.
But office work and manufacturing lost out to the food cart in 2015 and now the couple, who own three dogs but do not have children, are on to a new phase in the relationship. StCyr's future plans for Dog Dog include a dog bakery, retail space with locally curated dog-themed goods and dog walking services. The business is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday with rates starting at $27 a day for a single visit but a 20-visit pass can be purchased for $460. A Saturday $5 open play is also offered from noon to 3 p.m.