Episode 149 – Bonnie Emmerich

Bonnie Emmerich

Bonnie Emmerich

Bonnie is the owner of Hampton Pet Chef where she formulates and executes healthy food for dogs and cats using seasonal vegetables along with all-natural proteins and carbohydrates. She also caters pet-friendly “pawties” and furry fiestas. She’s appeared on Animal Planet and People TV and provided food for the Better Show on the Hallmark Channel.

She is currently writing a cookbook for pet parents and is working on another tv opportunity when the world is a much safer place. Her hope is to open a doggie deli where pets and parents can order fresh-made food to go, or hopefully, stay and meet some of the featured rescue animals she plans to have on adoption days.

Website: http://hamptonpetchef.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Hampton-Pet-Chef-112920695389048/

“Welcome to the Animal Professionals podcast, where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved. This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free platform designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only place that automates local rides and transports. Now, on with our show!

 Hey, Bonnie, welcome to the program. Hi, Chris. How are you? I’m great. Thanks so much for joining us today. So why don’t you start off and kind of tell us about you? Tell us your journey and how you got into all of this. Sure, I own Hampson Pet Shop. My name is Bonnie Emmerich. I started this when I lived out in the Hamptons, which, if people aren’t aware, it’s on Long Island all the way on the east end by the ocean. I started making homemade nutritional pet food. Because I live by the ocean, there are a lot of fishermen and there’s farms there and I thought, wow, you know, but this is great. It’s a big, giant place of good natural, happy food.

 So I had come from the background of catering and bartending and personal chefs. And I did a lot of in-home things for the wealthy people out there. So I decided that there seemed to be an abundance of that. And I just saw how people treated their pets in their homes. Their pets room was nicer than my house. Okay, well, I think that I can pamper these pets. So that’s what I started to do and I made some good connections and I had some vet friends look over my menus. They gave me the formulas on how to make it the right way. It’s not just, you know, pretty food. It’s healthy food, so you don’t have to mix it with the other food. Some people think that, Oh, I’m gonna have to mix it. But sometimes that just overdoes it. It’s like taking too many vitamins, you know? So that’s how I ended up here. So you started out in human food, catering, and that kind of led you down the path of like you said, you got to do some of this for the rich and famous people, out in the Hamptons.

Yeah, and then I made a lot of acquaintances that were a part of rescues. And then I became involved in some of the rescues and the animal shelter in Southampton. And when I, you know, got the opportunity to do Animal Planet, I made sure that I incorporated it with my animal shelter. And then more recently, when I was on the People TV Little episode, I incorporated another rescue that’s closer to the city since that show is in the city. And it was funny because a woman with the same name is me. So it was Bonnie Bark, and I just, you know, out east there’s a lot of different rescues. And I ended up fostering a little beagle. And then I met my best friend because I was walking down the street with the beagle and there were two beagles in the yard. I was walking by and then we became great friends. Then my foster got adopted. Which is good, but sad. So now I have two beagle nieces and I try a lot of recipes out on them.

 So what was that like when Animal Planet called you? That must’ve been quite a shock? Yes. What is fate in the beginning? You know, I was like, I guess I was one of the first people to do this. And then other people started to do it. I guess you know they all, great minds think alike, I said, Well, I would probably try to do this. So it’s fun. And, you know, I know a lot of people, but I don’t know their names, but I know their pets’ names. So what year was this now that you were on the Animal Planet? It was probably like 2014. I think it was in March. Yeah, so that was fun. We cooked for the aristocrat cat. I think she called it the Aristocat. And then we went to the shelter and we fed the cats there and everybody was very happy and it was a lot of fun.

 So now with the COVID, I’m just cooking for a few people. I’m really not looking to cook for more, at this time because of the food supply. And I’m not really trusting a lot of the food that I see there. So I’m working more on my recipes and I’m putting together a book. So that’s my big project while in quarantine. So I do cook a lot, but I’m not really out there not going to anybody’s home cooking for them. Sure. I have a few people that come and pick up, but that’s what we’re doing. So I try to make the recipes with as much good stuff as I can get. You know, the winters are a little bit harder than this summer’s, so if I have to use some frozen organic vegetables and I do because that’s actually sometimes better than vegetables that are shipped from across the country or the world, you know. So if you have to do that, you do that. And I even cook for some animals that have issues, like renal problems or diabetes. And I work with the vets to just make the formulas correct. And I’ve had a lot of good results, and I’ve had people that, you know, tell me that I saved their dogs’ lives. I have, you know, a few people that really, really are happy. So that makes me happy. I don’t need to really make everyone happy, I just have to make the right people happy all the time.

 So now how do you come up with some of these recipes? I mean, obviously you’re taking different ingredients and stuff, and then are you trying them on your dogs? Are they your test subjects? Well, I don’t have a dog right now, but I do have my nieces and I have some other dogs that I cook for and test things out. And everybody is always happy to see me. They all know me by name. So I take the formulas that I was given originally. And I also study nutrition on my own. I’m almost a nutritionist. It’s just that in New York state where I’m from, there’s no such thing as a pet nutritionist. You have to be a vet. So I’m looking to get licensed in New Jersey, which is next door to New York. So I am studying and I’m always learning different things. So I don’t believe in the no carbohydrates in there from the things that I’ve read and the way that my dogs have reacted. It’s like it’s good to have some brown rice in there or you could even put Quina or, you know, depends. But I have to weigh everything out as far as what’s got calcium, what’s got magnesium, all the different vegetables that have the different things that I need. So I put it all in the formulas, and I try them out, and I find that most of the animals really like sweet potatoes. They really like carrots. They like the spinach. I’ve had a few that really reject broccoli, which is probably good because they only could have a little tiny bit because broccoli can give them gas, so you can just use a little. But when it’s in season, I like to try to use it. 

 Now, what about seasoning? I would assume that you’re not using a lot of seasoning in this. Well, I use no salt. I use no onions, no garlic. But I found that Tumeric and cumin and ginger all are very tasty. And they have really good benefits as far as like for joint health and kidney health. And so it’s tasty. It’s almost like a Middle Eastern kind of rub sometimes, that I put on the meat and that does very well. I mean, I’ve actually tasted everything, I think. It’s human edible food, you’re just catering it towards the dogs. Right. Like some people might think it’s planned, but I’ve given different people samples. Like when I lived in the East, I gave a lot more samples to people that I knew, and I have given some to a friend of mine and she put in the refrigerator and she was waiting to give the dog dinner and her son ate it and said, it wasn’t that bad, but it needs a little salt. Yes, that’s about right. There wasn’t any salt in that. So, you know, I put everything together and then I just pulse it in the Cuisinart. So it’s not mushy, but it’s small enough so that they get everything and they can’t really pick out. You know, like some fussy little guys will just want to pick something out and then that takes away from some of the benefits. So I just pulse a little chicken stock, that I make myself, you know, just for animals with no onions or I just put carrots in it and celery. And then I also can make like a lamb stock or something. So I always put a little bit of the juice of whatever protein I’m using and they eat it right up.

Now, are you primarily doing this catering or are you also doing it? I heard you say before you had some regular clients. So you have people that you’re doing this every week? Daily diets. So I do daily diets. And then my party food actually is, it’s snacks and more. It’s always healthy and you know it can be balanced, but it’s still, you know, it’s not a meal meal. It’s just for, like, fun. You know, like you have some people over if that ever happens again and they bring their animals over and while everybody’s eating and there’s a nice, healthy option for your dog and you can actually eat it too. I’ve done parties where I did horderves that were for people but healthy for the dogs. So I just, you know, like I could do seared tuna with sesame seeds, they could eat that. That’s a really cool idea because more and more people are inviting people to bring their animals. And I mean, I know our dog is like our son, right. And our cat’s our daughter, right? So you can imagine more and more people are involving their pets and everything that they do. Oh they do. They definitely do. I have a client who travels, and she’s taking her dog to Italy, to Venice. So they’re really compact. Yeah, that’s the people that I find most are my clientele, are people that their dog is their family. That’s it. They are not leaving them behind for very long unless it’s a place that they just can’t take them. So there’s pet-friendly hotels all over the world. People realize that this is a thing now. You know this is your buddy. It’s your son. Your best friends, your fake husband. It’s just, you know, that’s who you’re with all the time. They sleep on the bed with you.

 Yeah, now you also cook, though for cats I thought I saw on your website as well. That’s gotta be a little more difficult? That’s more difficult because the cats are fussy. So when I do cat food, the plan is then you do have to mix the food. So I would tell my client, you know, you have to give the cat whatever she’s used to eating. Put 3/4 of that in 1/4 of mine. And as the weeks go on, that 50/50 that’s, you know, 75/25 fill it full. And I actually had to do that with the cat that I cooked for on Animal Planet. We had her on some of the food for like, more than a week, like two weeks before the show. So that’s just how cats are. But it’s good, you know. They adapt. Then they end up liking it,  just a little bit different. They’re a little fussier, where a dog just comes and eats anything. I’ve had people tell me, Oh, my dog is so fussy and I’m like, Yeah, really? And I give him a little meat and there he is, eating it. He’s really fussy until he gets something good. Yeah, dogs know what they’re doing.

 I know it’s definitely been more of a trend, lately. I’ve seen a lot more people that are making their own dog food and there’s blogs and sites and all sorts of great things out there, resources. so is that something that you contribute to? Is that something you can be involved with as well? I haven’t. But I’m looking to do that, you know, with the book that I’m working on now. And perhaps a YouTube couple videos channel. However it works. I would like people to cook for their dogs more, especially now with the food sources. And you know, you don’t know what you’re getting unless you get it and pick it out yourself. You know, so there’s always gonna be recalls. I understand that. But if you can take care of the shopping and picking out the ingredients yourself when it happens again, you have your own farmer’s market. Or maybe you keep a garden in the backyard or you can grow things that the dog will like. Some carrots and kale. Things like that. Then you’re better off and the dog’s better off, and then you have a happier long life. So I think it is good. It’s just, you know, you have to do it in the right way because you don’t want your animal to be deficient in anything. And especially if you have cats because you have to add the feline taurine. It’s not the bodybuilding taurine that you know people use, and that’s a necessity. If you don’t have that, you’re gonna have kidney problems and maybe even heart issues, so it’s very important to really know your source where you’re getting the recipes. You may even want to have your own vet look it over first and see if he or she thinks that that’ll work for your animal. 

Now, is it just dogs and cats? Have you ever cooked for other animals as well? No, I never cooked for any other. Just curious if somebody came along said, Hey, I’ve got a bunny or a snake. I have a bunny, actually and I don’t cook for them, even though I have seen people make little birthday cakes out of hay and pellets, but I have not done that yet. Now that is something you have to do while you’re in quarantine. I like it. Gives another excuse to cook for the bunnies. I think bunnies are good. Their salads. I have some kale in the backyard growing for them. And we’re good. Yeah, I’m gonna work on my cats and dogs. And if I ever get my own house again and I will be adopting another dog. But in the meantime, I can still fluster. Cool. I don’t have anybody right now, but we’re working on that. My one bunny really likes little dogs. He plays with them, little dogs, like Pomeranians. Yes, your Pomeranian friends. Actually, she’s passed, but she, there is a picture of her on my website with me, so it could work. Exactly.

 And I know you said you’re gonna be working on a cookbook, and then you said probably a YouTube channel. Should be really cool to show people how to do this. I mean, I’m thinking even after talking about selecting the best ingredients and what to choose for them, I mean, there’s so many questions that I have because I’ve never done that before, so I think that’s a really good idea. What else is on your docket for the future? Well, if the world ever gets close to what we were used to, I would like to have a little dog cafe, but not in the way that people are doing it now. I would like to have it like a deli where you pick the dog’s food. Take a pound that we’ll have, you know, half a pound of that and then they can sit and eat. Maybe I’ll give away coffee and tea for their parents. But that’s in the future. And maybe to start, maybe I’ll just have something with a take out window, you know, something like that. But right now, I really just wanna get my book going and plug that and see if maybe, you know, I can do a little YouTube. Or maybe I could even get a spot on a show. You know, anybody? Yeah, right. Just a little spot, you know, the Little Pet Shop Corner or something and just make a little something. But for now, you know, with this time it’s a little tricky, so everyone’s got a pivot. So I guess I have to pivot as well. 

Yeah. So I know a lot of this, you said was kind of self-taught and figured out. I mean, what was the best piece of advice you got along the way? Oh, just try to keep the ingredients down like don’t overdo it. You know, make sure it’s balanced. And when you read the ingredients, you don’t want to read a list of things that you can’t pronounce. So I keep the ingredients to maybe four or five things unless, you know, I’m seasoning it with turmeric or whenever. But that’s just like a dash and a pinch. But yeah, you don’t, I don’t want to put too much. So I try to get the right things, make it easy. For me, easy for anyone else that wants to cook for their animals. And that’s the best advice that I could get or give. I was gonna ask you what advice would you give? But it sounds like it would be the same advice. Keep it simple, right, because we don’t need a lot of that processed stuff either and turn their animals. Right. And you want to choose the right vegetables so that you get the nutrition and the value out of each ingredient that you have. You want to get the most punch, so you don’t wanna have to use a whole bunch of different things. And if you’re cooking yourself, you don’t have to put a lot of the things that they put in a factory because you’re gonna use it right away. You know you’ll refrigerate it. You’ll make enough for a week, and there’s certain things that I make like meatloaf’s that you could put in the freezer so you don’t have to add all that stuff because it’s fresh and is gonna stay fresh. You know that’s the best sourcing. You know, I don’t cook it on very high temperatures because I don’t wanna ruin the value of the vegetables or the meat. So I cook on low temperature so it takes a little bit longer. But it’s much healthier. Sometimes I use beans, you know, it depends. It depends on the season what I can get. It depends on you know who I’m cooking for because it’s not a one size fits all. 

So I’m curious, Bonnie. What have you learned about yourself through this journey? That I like to deal with animals, more than people. Okay, now I do like people, so don’t get me wrong, but it’s always satisfying to see them be so happy and excited to see them, almost dance when I’m walking in the door. So it’s a lot more rewarding. People don’t dance for me when I walk in the door. These parties in the Hamptons that you’re going to,  they’re not dancing for you, huh? No, no. Not much now, they might later. But now, not when I walk in the door. I think that’s really cool what you do. And I think it’s really cool that the animals are dancing when you’re coming in the door and Bonnie, is there anything else as we kind of draw this to close. Is there anything else you would like to mention before we wrap things up? I just want to say that I hope everybody is being safe and I want to thank all the front line workers, and that includes the people in the grocery store that are helping me pick the right things, and I just hope for a happier, better world and long life for your animals. Yeah, I think that was very well said. We’ll make sure that we link up to Hampton Pet Chef in the show notes and stuff. And I really appreciate you coming on. It was great to talk to you. Oh, so happy you invited me. Thank you so much. It was a great time. Be well. 

Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. Be sure to subscribe to your favorite podcast platform and feel free to leave us a review so we can help even more animals. Also, don’t forget to sign up with Doobert.com to join the tens of thousands of Dooberteers across the country and around the world helping animals and the organizations working to save them.”


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