As a puppy, Bubba had an extremely sensitive tummy. Conventional dog chow just did not agree with him. “I’d have to cook for him,” doting owner, Laurie Billinge, says.
Having a great home cook not only benefitted Bubba, an Altman White English Bulldog, but many other pooches throughout the First Coast have enjoyed the perks. Billinge’s canine culinary creativity led her to start the dog treat business, “Bubba’s Bistro.” Treats that include Mutt Balls (doggy meat balls); Pup Cakes (beef and bacon, turkey sweet potato, pumpkin sweet potato); Cheese Bone cookies (healthy dog friendly, no sugar) and Chee-Zoops, made from whole wheat flour and cheddar cheese. During the week, Billinge whips up a variety of tasty goodies in her Jacksonville kitchen and sells them at the Riverside Arts Market (RAM) on Saturdays, as well as online.
“RAM is so dog friendly, and dogs are our best salesmen,” Billinge says. “We have regular customers. Dogs bring their birthday money from grandma to spend at Bubba’s.”
She always offers free samples, which is “how we find out what they like,” she says. “Some just like everything.”
Bubba, now 9, is chief taste tester, and her personal assistant. “Every 20 minutes, when I’m baking,” Billinge says, “Bubba comes through and cleans the floor.”
When he was a baby, she boiled chicken and mixed it with cottage cheese and yogurt to make his meals. Then she needed a treat to use with training, so she experimented with some ground turkey her mother had on hand, and came up with her Turkey Parmesan Mutt Ball recipe. It included minced garlic and fresh parsley, and Bubba loved it. So did her neighbors’ dogs.
The popularity “sparked an idea,” so she created a Swiss cheese and ham Mutt Ball recipe, and took some to a dog show. They were a hit there as well, she says, and the event took off.
Billinge spends 20 to 60 hours cooking and baking, and the holiday season is especially busy, as many dog owners—as well as pet sitters and dog walkers—are looking for special treats for their furry friends. She uses only natural ingredients, such as whole wheat flour, pureed beef, bacon and eggs. No preservatives, sugar or salt. They are perfect for dogs with food sensitivities.
Bubba’s Bistro treats are fairly soft, and easily break into pieces for older and smaller dogs. Special occasion doggy cakes can also be specially ordered, and gift baskets filled with a variety of treats are available for the holidays.