New Brazil restaurant goes to the dogs
Rachel Zanardi's two companions - two-year-old Julyane, and eight-year-old Davyd - obviously approved her menu choices for them, she could tell right away.
Their tails wagged.
After all, what pet dog wouldn't want to tuck into a lamb-and-vegetable combo, or a chicken dish, in the comfort of Brazil's first restaurant catering to canine customers with all-natural food?
That's the idea behind "Pet Delicia," an eatery opened in December by a Brazilian-Swedish couple in Rio de Janeiro's famed beachside Copacabana district.
"As soon as you have a pet, it's like for your children or elders: you want to give them the best possible treatment," explained Zanardi, a 49-year-old Brazilian lawyer who lives nearby.
"Davyd's allergies have improved a lot since he started on these natural servings instead of canned dogfood," she said, sitting with her pint-sized charges at a low table in front of the restaurant, set on artificial grass.
Davyd, a Yorkshire Terrier, and Julyane, a black dachshund Teckel, gulp down their food in seconds, leaving the plates - white, with an orange dog-paw design - clean.
"I prefer to spend a little extra to have a pet in good health," Zanardi said.
Roberta Camara, the owner of the restaurant in partnership with her husband Joergen, said that, despite the service and animal-friendly furniture, she tried to avoid calling it a restaurant.
"We prefer to say it's an 'area for dogs' rather than a restaurant in a country like Brazil, where millions of people still suffer from hunger," she said.
'Doggy bags' of course
Camara, a former scientist, explained that the food was prepared to "very strict" standards fixed by the agriculture ministry, and was "better than that served by owners at home, because everything here is balanced and worked out by animal nutrition specialists."
The main advantage was that the menus were "a lot tastier than commercial dogfood."
In the two weeks they have been open, they have already developed a loyal clientele and serve more than 20 plates a day, said Camara, who owns three dogs of her own.
To reassure picky patrons, the couple have their spotless kitchen on display behind glass windows, through which the staff can be seen cutting fresh meat and vegetables into muzzle-friendly cubes.
And in keeping with restaurant tradition, customers can order their food to eat on the premises - or, of course, in "doggy bags" containing frozen portions to be served up at home.
If Roberta uses her scientific background to ensure quality control, it's Joergen who has the business acumen, with his previous career as a stockmarket trader in New York.
"We decided to change our lives," he said simply.
"In Sweden, natural food for dogs has been around for 40 years. I come from a family of restaurateurs, and I saw that, in Brazil, there was a good niche given that it's the third-biggest market for dog- and catfood in the world."
With their entrepreneurial spirits zinging from their early success, the couple are already thinking of their next step: selling ready-to-eat packaged meals in pet shops and supermarkets in Brazil's biggest cities.
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