The early reviews are in, three weeks after star chef Billy Ngo began serving freshly cooked meals for canines in McKinley Park: Dogs are licking their chops, tugging on leashes and dragging their owners back to Healthy Hounds Kitchen for food that’s a cut above dried kibble.
With dishes such as beef and sweet potatoes, turkey and brown rice, and venison with lentils, Healthy Hounds (3608 McKinley Blvd., Sacramento) uses only human-grade meat and produce. The spacious open kitchen sends a clear message: There are no secrets and no hidden ingredients.
“The concept here at Healthy Hounds is actually really simple,” said co-owner Chris Ouchida. “We wanted to start with (U.S. Department of Agriculture)-grade meat and produce … to create the best dog food possible.”
Ouchida is partners in the venture with two longtime friends, Tim Tseng, an entrepreneur, and Ngo, the owner of Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine and Fish Face Poke Bar and widely considered one of Sacramento’s most talented chefs. The partners put plenty of thought into the food and the design of the space, enlisting the services of interior designer Whitney Johnson, known for creating the look at such human-centered hot spots as Hook & Ladder, Bottle and Barlow, and Sactown Union Brewery.
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“Our target customer is really anybody with a dog. We’re hoping to replace kibble for anybody that’s a dog owner within the Sacramento area,” Ouchida said. “We’ve priced it pretty aggressively to be comparable to a premium-grade kibble.”
Led by Ngo, who’s in the process of relocating his flagship crew from J Street in midtown to Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento, the trio developed the recipes and tested them on their own dogs – Ouchida has a Staffordshire terrier; Tseng a German shepherd and Labrador retriever. All of the meals are designed to meet the nutritional requirements of dogs. One of them, the fish and sushi rice recipe, uses the same rice Ngo sources for Kru.
Top-shelf ingredients are part of a trend in the pet business.
According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $23 billion on dog food last year. More dog owners are looking for healthier, higher-quality alternatives to mass-produced kibble, sparking renewed interest in cooking at home for pets.
Healthy Hounds has turned that trend into a business and notes that the pricing structure is about the same as if dog owners bought the ingredients and cooked the food themselves.
The meals are gently cooked at Healthy Hounds, sealed in Cryovac bags and then frozen for easy storage. To serve, you only need to thaw the food and put it in a dog bowl.
Ouchida and Tseng have been giving out samples to first-time visitors and say early reviews have been glowing. Tseng said first-time customers should ease the transition from kibble to fresh-cooked food to prevent digestive issues, but he notes that after that, dogs will be healthier and more energetic when they eat quality food.
Among the happy return customers is Che Akel, who lives in Tahoe Park with her two tiny – and fussy – papillons.
“I have two very picky eaters, and the last dog food I tried was extremely expensive – and you had to make it yourself,” she said.
“Then I heard about this place. I got some samples, took them home and gave them to my dogs to try. They actually ate it on their own and licked the bowls. …
“They’re my little fur babies. … We want them to be as healthy and as active as possible, which means they need to have good food.”