Washington Business Journal: Oct 2020

Washington Business Journal: Oct 2020

Bark Social, a planned beer garden, pet store and off-leash park for dogs and the humans that love them, is making its way to North Bethesda's Pike and Rose in December after raising a $1.5 million seed round.

The seed round was led by entrepreneurs in the pet, retail and technology sectors, including honorary co-founder and board member Arie Abecassis; Clint Smith, founder of Emma; Nick Stafford, CEO of Ollie Pets; Dr. Sindy Goodman, COO of a dental service organization; Peter Gudmundsson, a pet services entrepreneur; and Dr. William Bush, founder of a veterinary neurology/neurosurgical practice with five locations in Maryland, Virginia and Georgia.

Bark Social co-founders Luke Silverman and Jeff Kurtzman started putting the idea together roughly two years ago after Silverman had visited multiple dog bars and found the idea compelling but wanted to add his own twist with the retail component. They used some personal funds to get the business off the ground, and then started fundraising in the fall of 2019.

Bark Social closed its funding round in February, but the Covid-19 pandemic
pushed back the venue's opening by a couple of months. Silverman, who serves as CEO, and Kurtzman, who is the president, said the pandemic only made the prospect of a mostly outdoor venue where you can bring your dog more attractive.

Dog ownership has been on the rise since the pandemic hit, Silverman said.
"We believe we are a great fit for a pre-Covid business. We thought we were a great concept beforehand and the market and investors thought that as well," Silverman said. "And now in a post-Covid world, we're even more attractive."
Bark Social works in part on a membership model. To bring a dog to Bark Social, a customer must have either a daily pass that cost $9.99, a monthly pass that cost $39.99 or an annual pass that currently cost $239.99. Co-founders Luke Silverman and Jeff Kurtzman said they already have already sold "hundreds" of monthly and annual memberships.

The 30,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor venue at 935 Prose St. will offer locally sourced craft beer, wine and coffee and allow customers to get some socially distant air with their dogs. Bark Social also provides a slew of private-labeled
treats, dog food and products that include cupcakes, birthday cakes, ice cream,
"pupsicles" and dog shampoo, some of which is already on sale through the
company's website.

Bark Social is partnered with Ceremony Coffee for its morning program and will
complement this with a rotation of local and national craft beers and wines for its
beer garden. The indoor "clubhouse" portion of the venue will be 3,000 square
feet, including the back of house, and the rest of space will be reserved for the
patio beer garden, which will be covered and have heaters, and the dog park.
Bark Social will employee 35 to 50 workers, including a handful of "Bark Rangers who will monitor and clean up after dogs.

Despite its very niche theme, Bark Social is open to all kind of customers, including those who don't own dogs and won't have to pay a membership fee and can enjoy the human-food offerings such as pizza, paninis and fruit that will be provided, in part, by the Union Kitchen culinary incubator. Entrance priority will still be given to those who have a membership, however.

"It's been overwhelming in terms of customers wanting this kind of experience and the validation points we've gotten, including folks who have signed up for
memberships already,"Abecassis said. "Our social following has grown every day and Jeff and Luke get inquiries from customers in many cases around the concept and interest and selling the merchandise."

That validation has also extended to the founders' plans to have more than one
Bark Social location someday. Though they're keeping mostly mum on growth
plans, Silverman and Kurtzman said they do plan to expand the concept.

Katishi Maake
Staff Reporter
Washington Business Journal